The Jazz Crusade Audio Sampler Catalog
JCCD-3083: Tony Pyke/Cuff Billett - "Can't We Be Friends?"

Personnel: Tony Pyke [reeds], Cuff Billett [trumpet], Alan Dandy [piano], Andy Lawrence [string bass], Johnny Baker [drums]

Songs: Pagan Love Song, St. Louis Blues, Squeeze Me, Blue Skies, Can't We Be Friends, Weary Blues, Sweet & Lovely, Rip 'Em Up Joe, Bye Bye Baby, Dream A Little Dream of Me, Into Each Life Some Rain May Fall, I'm In the Mood for Love, Japansy, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, Save Your Sorrows, Baby Face

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Reviews for:
JCCD-3083: Tony Pyke/Cuff Billett - "Can't We Be Friends?"

Jazzreview.com: - Internet Publication

Here's an album that defies the listener to place it in a neat pigeonhole. It just can't be done. The group of senior British jazzmen come from varied backgrounds and styles. Although the individual players have been influenced by New Orleans musicians, this band draws its material from many styles including New York, Chicago and the hot dance bands of the twenties. Let's introduce the band.
Tony Pyke is a self-taught reedman who began his career in the mid 1950s on clarinet and later added an alto sax to his arsenal. Pyke is well known for his two periods with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen: 1965-1971 and 1978-1983. Since 1995, Tony has made several recordings with another Colyer veteran, trombonist Geoff Cole on the Jazz Crusade label.
Cuff Billett , like Tony Pyke, started in the 1950s and ran his own band in Portsmouth from 1956-60. Joining Barry 'Kid' Martyn's London group, Cuff remained there until 1967. He toured and recorded with a number of New Orleans players including Louis Nelson, George Lewis, Capt. John Handy and the recently deceased Harold Dejan. From the mid 80s to the early 90s, Billett was part of Butch Thompson's King Oliver Centennial Band. Formed in 1972, his own New Europa Jazz Band is still a fixture at festivals in Britain.
Alan Dandy is a native of Birmingham and promoted jazz performances at universities there and around the country. Dandy has performed with Brian White's Magna Jazz Band, Dick Charlesworth, Ian Christie and the great Muggsy Remembered Band .
Andy Lawrence picked up his instrument in his school band in the late 1950s. The London based musician left to join Terry Lightfoot's Jazzmen in 1969 and stayed until 1973. Lawrence has worked with Max Collie, Goff Dubber and international stars Yank Lawson, Warren Vache and the great Ruby Braff who passed away last month. Andy rejoined Terry Lightfoot in 1989 and continues to perform with the band today. This is his first appearance with Jazz Crusade .
Johnny Baker is a drummer who began his career on trombone. For a decade, he performed on both instruments, but concentrating on drums, he has played with Ken Sims Dixie Kings, Mike Casimir's Iberia Stompers and the Hugh Rainey Band . The versatile rhythm-man received instruction and encouragement from Crescent City legends Louis Barbarin and Freddie Kohlman . His performance on this CD draws on a variety of jazz styles and he carries it off perfectly.
The tunes on this session range from New Orleans favorites, Pagan Love Song & Rip 'Em Up Joe to the 'hot dance' standards, Save Your Sorrows, Baby Face and the seldom heard Japansy penned by Al Bryan & John Klenner in 1927. The band is loose and lively. Billett and Pyke form a confident and 'hot' front line. Billett's open horn at times reminds the listener of Wild Bill, Max Kaminsky and other fine Condon Crowd trumpeters. Pianist Alan Dandy shows his worth on many tunes but really shines on Weary Blues and Sweet & Lovely . Andy Lawrence and Johnny Baker show great versatility throughout the session. The Pyke/Billett band is obviously having fun and it's contagious.
- Richard Bourcier


Boxell's Jazz Website

This is yet another brilliant British bonus thanks to Jazz Crusade bringing together top British jazz talent on a CD. Magic stuff. Put the CD on and the first track with Tony Pyke weaving on alto and Cuff Billett growling his trumpet lets you know the delights you can expect.
I first saw Tony Pyke when he was with Ken Colyer's Jazz Men. Unlike some of the reedsmen to play with The Guv'nor, Tony's relaxed playing always complimented the rest of the front line instead of trying to dominate it. Tony is one of those underrated musicians who deserve greater recognition than they get. Having only a two man frontline this CD enables you to listen to Tony in a unique way. When he is playing ensemble with Cuff, chop the right hand track so that you can only hear Tony. You will find that he is playing just as interestingly as he does when solo. There are no cheap fill ins with the man, no spiralling, no mindless repetition, just thoughtful and sensitive music. Not that you should leave Cuff out of the equation for long. The man plays a mean horn, even if he does sound better when he has a bit of force behind the sound (listen to the quiet solo on 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me' to see what I mean).
Backing the main men we have Alan Dandy on piano. Alan is a brilliant pianist who puts some 'whumph' into the band. I must say though that his solo break on 'Sweet & Lovely' which is basically a clarinet solo, Alan does at times seem lost and looking for away out. Drummer Johnny Baker lays down a good underscore and an occasional dynamic solo. The bass player Andy Lawrence is very good, I think. Think? Well at times his playing is so discrete that you can hardly hear him. Whilst listening to the CD on a bus, I made the mistake of upping the volume to listen to Andy on a solo break. People looked at me when I yelled out when Cuff came back on line at full strength!
This is the sort of CD you can indeed become friends with. You can play it time and time again, and I do, much to the annoyance of those sharing the house with me ('That's the third time through for that CD, why can't you play one of the hundreds of others you own for a change?') I just ignore them and reach for the repeat button.
- Geoff Boxell


Jazz Journal International - British Jazz Magazine

Ex-Colyer reedsman Tony Pyke, and Cuff Billett, have both been primarily associated with purist New Orleans jazz in the past. Both have, however, over the years. developed a more broadly based, mellow personal style. Cuff is equally at home with mainstream jazz these days, and contributes several tightly muted solos in the style of 'Sweets' Edison. His pungent, economical, intense phrasing is well complemented by the steady flow of relaxed, lyrical ideas from Tony. In some ways the session comes across as a somewhat hybrid affair, in terms of jazz styles. The tunes are played in a loose-knit, off-the-cuff (no pun intended!) manner with little pre-arrangement, relying simply on spontaneous invention, in the New Orleans way. Yet, in general, the music is nearer in style to vintage small group swing, both in the playing (particularly from Cuff and from pianist Alan Dandy) and in the choice of repertoire-mainly good quality standards (apart from the dreary Pagan Love Song), which cry out for some imaginative touches of arrangement, which would have added variety and interest to the album. However, it's certainly enjoyable, relaxed, unpretentious listening.
Cuff's warm-toned trumpet comes across well in Can't We Be Friends, with touches of Red Alien in his duet feature with Alan Dandy's elegant piano on Dream A Little Dream. Tony's clarinet handles the melody with sensitivity and taste in his feature on Sweet And Lovely, and his alto is similarly mellow and lyrical in When I Grow Too Old and Save Your Sorrows. The mood in general is fairly laid-back, but a couple of stirring drum solos from John Baker in Weary Blues and Rip 'Em Up Joe spears the band into livelier mode. Enjoyable small group jazz, stirring some nice old swing and Dixieland tunes with a New Orleans spoon.
- Hugh Rainey


Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine

What a super session this must have been to be present at - it's almost like an ultra-relaxed, late night club session where everyone left their egos at the door. It's a privilege to hear five of Britain's best enjoying each other's company and exploring sixteen well-chosen tunes, many of which we don't hear too often. I was worried at first, fearing that the absence of a third front-line instrument would provide audio boredom, but that's to underestimate the subtle talents of not only Pyke and Billett, but also versatile pianist Alan Dandy. Between them, and within each number, they contrive to create an ever varying pattern of tones, tempos and ideas that never bore and always keeps your attention. In fact, I heard more revelations of deep talents here from, in particular, both front-line men than I had realised were there - sorry chaps - maybe I don't listen hard enough when hearing you 'live'.
Pyke switches seamlessly between alto and clarinet, adding superb colourings, and Billett's ability to play with subtle taste and amazing invention in all registers is a never-ending delight. I was particularly taken with his lower register stuff, which may be a little Ruby Braff inspired - on numbers like Can't We Be Friends - but that's to take nothing away from Cuff; it's no wonder that's he's never short of work.
As I said - this is a delightful set - a privilege to hear and a reminder that we have in the UK today some of the world's very best jazzmen who can hold their own in any company. Great stuff.
- Brian Harvey


Cadence Magazine - U. S. A.

The British traditional Jazz scene dates back before the Beatles and, as this CD shows, it's still alive and well. Tony Pyke and Cuff Billett are old hands who play against each other nicely in the old polyphonic style, each going his own merry way in front of the rhythm section but not clashing. Billett is sassy and often seems about to break out of the trad style while Pyke stays in the melodic mold of a Frankie Trumbauer. It's fascinating to hear them weave in and out of each other so well. They bring old chestnuts like "Baby Face," "Blue Skies" and "St. Louis Blues" boiling back to life. Each horn man also gets a solo spot with the rhythm section. Pyke sails through "Sweet & Lovely" effortlessly while Billett goes quiet but roguish on "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," doing a few things that sound like Lester Bowie getting sassy. These men show that even the most ancient of styles can have life in the right hands.
- Jerome Wilson


JazzGazette.com - Internet Publication

This is one of those CDs I find very difficult to review. Why? Is it bad? Certainly not! In fact it is almost perfect. Is it exceptional? No, it is not. I'm sure these five gentlemen can come together again each day of the week and record another CD just as good, just by tackling other tunes. What I'm trying to say is that this is the kind of timeless jazz that can only be produced by a group of seasoned professionals, who thoroughly love what they're doing and do it effortless. They are the salt of the earth. What style is it? Revival New Orleans? Not completely, although there is a lot of great ensemble playing with the two horns switching the lead. Is it classic jazz of the twenties? Again the answer is yes and no. It's close to it, but it is looser, more like revival New Orleans. There are definitely elements of the small group swing of the thirties in it. You see what I mean? It certainly is NOT modern jazz, no way! The melody is always there somewhere. I'm sure Hughes Panassié would have called it "real jazz". When we look at the picture in the CD box we see 5 gentlemen for whom the colour of their hair or the absence of hair indicates that they belong to my own age group which begins with a six. When we read the liner notes, written by the piano-man, we see that they all had their roots in traditional jazz and that each of them can be proud about having played or/and recorded with some of the greatest in the field. If the names of George Lewis, Louis Nelson, Capt. John Handy, Bill Coleman, Ruby Braff, Alton Purnell, Yank Lawson, to name just a few, mean anything to you, you'll know what I mean. They worked with these people and learned directly from them. Now that their models are almost all gone, they represent the new generation to continue this music in the century that just began. Unlike the white-collared sharks, who reign the popular music world today, want us to believe, musicians are not at their best when they are under twenty. The REAL ones, although their hair has turned white or is almost gone, get better and their music will sound young all the time. Put them together in a studio, start the tape rolling and let them loose on some well-known and others not so well-known songs of the classic jazz repertoire, and what you'll get is this ageless, exciting but always relaxed music you'll hear on this CD. What more is there to say? "Sweet And Lovely" is by clarinet + rhythm only. "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" is a duet by trumpet and piano, which reminds me of the beautiful things Ruby Braff recorded with Ellis Larkins for John Hammond (recently reissued on Vanguard). It almost sounds like the two of them were first in the studio and started to play a little together, not aware of the fact that the sound engineer was there too already and had started the tape. It's quiet and utterly relaxed, well, it is sweet and lovely! One of my favourite songs on this album is the seldom-heard "Japansy", recorded in 1937 by Jimmie Noone with Charlie Shavers on the trumpet. Haunting little melody and excellent playing. I'm sure that when I'll play this disc again, another gem will start to glitter. It's that kind of a record, you know...
- Marcel Joly


Mississippi Rag - U. S. A.

Half a century ago, the traditional revival raised its shaggy head in the U.K., thanks to the Christie brothers, Sandy Brown, Humphrey Lyttelton, Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, and other talented and committed players. Over here in the official home oi jazz, kid musicians, much impressed, used to sit around and debate their respective merits, along with such crucial matters as the year in which Louis Armstrong had stopped playing the real jazz (was it 1927 or not until 1929?). The Brit revival like its American cousin, has yet to give up the ghost: for living proof of its diehard character, try this CD by a senior quintet of Englishmen, all with decades of experience, some of it with bigger names on both sides of the pond. Their combined ages are probably closer to 350 years than to 300. Thus, they are contemporaries of today's American jazz festival fan base.
Trumpeter Cuff Billett, whose resume is the most impressive in the group, has recorded with George Lewis, Bud Freeman, Bill Coleman, and Albert Nicholas (a mere sampling). His wry, understated play on the present CD provides much of the pleasure to be derived from it - a Rex Stewart half-valve here, a Lips Page growl there, but still a coherent style he can call his own. It is he who best demonstrates the degree to which post-New Orleans music ("swing," for short) has complicated and mellowed traditional jazz on both sides of the pond. This CD would be much less enjoyable without such selections as "Blue Skies" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me," for example. Except for Colyer, every top British trumpeter (they're all well trained) has expanded his base in this manner, from Lyttelton to Colin Dawson, and it is hard to be sorry.
Furthermore, the struggle between the old and the less old is interesting to follow. On "Sweet & Lovely," Billett's co-leader Tony Pyke, soloing with the rhythm section, achieves a flat-footed mid-'30s lounge style which is neither New Orleans nor swing. But the blend is not always easily made, and, whether on clarinet or alto he sounds much more comfortable on the more traditional numbers. He and Billett play together like old buddies; indeed this is true of all five players here.
Some of the oddities of tempo and treatment have an undeniable charm. Take "I'm in the Mood for Love," done in a dance-hall medium bounce. And some contemporary veterans on the lookout for fresh tunes will appreciate "Bye Bye Baby," which gets a brisk treatment. A gold star, too, for the resuscitation of "Japansy," a pretty tune recorded in 1937 by a Jimmie Noone band with Charlie Shavers and Wellman Braud.
No one who can appreciate this band will object overmuch to the very occasional harmonic slip or sped-up drum tag. The whole group, very much including the rhythm section, exudes a comfortable, pleasantly well-worn air and a characteristically British mildness and relaxation. The modest Pyke is quoted in the informative notes by pianist Alan Dandy: "I just aim to play good quality music and to please." Dandy, bassist Andy Lawrence, and drummer Johnny Baker provide exactly what the band would seem to require.
- Jim Leigh


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