Andy Statman – Old Brooklyn (2011)

Another album I picked up on because of comments by a critic I like to pay attention to (in this case the excellent Richard Haslop, one of SA’s best writers on music).

Statman turns out to be a pretty eclectic player, tossing jazz, bluegrass, eastern European Chassidic music and a dash of surf rock into the mix. And he’s a monster player – very, very good on clarinet and downright jaw dropping on mandolin (his first instrument). I said in my review of AC/DC that virtuosity isn’t everything, but Statman gets it right – superb playing (also from his guest players) but with an infectious sense of joy in the playing, and his compositions are always at least respectable foundations for all that marvellous soloing.

So it’s a heady brew, and it’s had me grinning like a fool in my car and, more recently, on the train the last month or so.

Sound wise it’s a very natural sounding record. Some might say TOO natural because Statman has a habit of humming whilst he’s soloing and that gets picked up by the mics. But I think it’s part of his schtick and it doesn’t distract me. In a strange way it adds to the music and so maybe Statman and producer Ed Haber made a conscious decision to leave it in when they could easily have minimised it. Haber is not a producer to overtly stamp his own mark on proceedings and the unintrusive, naturalist style works well here (and given the quality of the playing is all that is necessary – why try to add sonic fireworks when there’s already plenty by virtue of the playing?)

Statman has chops to burn, and the guest players on this record (most notably Byron Berline, Bruce Molksy and Bela Fleck) are hardly any less handy, but that’s not the point – or not the sole point.  You might feel the need to rearrange your face after listening to Statman and Fleck trade solos on “My Hollywood Girls” but it’s intriguing as a composition too.

This album has consistently done two things for me: It has had me marvelling at the quality of the musicianship and it’s put a big smile on my dial.

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