Cousin Joe [piano/vocal]
Songs: Down & Out Man, Hogwash Junction Function, I've Got
News for You, Mess Around, Hotel Loneliness, She Ain't Such-A-Much, Chicken
ala Blues, Too Late to Turn Back Now, Touch Me, Thank You Pretty Baby,
Songs: Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You?, Yancey Special, Have You
Seen My Kitty?, Impromptu Blues, Oh! Lady Be Good, Stagger Lee, Who's
Sorry Now?, St. Louis Blues, Alberta, Alton's Boogie, After Hours
New Orleans Piano Blues - Cousin Joe/Alton Purnell
Jazzreview.com - Internet Magazine
In a distinct departure from its normal fare, Jazz Crusade has issued
a "piano blues" album. Titled New Orleans Piano Blues, the CD
features two legendary pianists from the Crescent City. As always, the
label pushes the megabyte limit and squeezes in 22 great tunes. The first
set features "Cousin Joe" Pleasant (1907-1989) in a 1978 London
concert. The second part offers eleven choice pieces by Alton Purnell
(1911-1987) taken from a 1965 concert in Australia.
Cousin Joe was born in Wallaceburg, about 30 miles from New Orleans and
a cloud of mystery surrounds his name. Brian Wood explains in his liner
notes, that the musician was sometimes referred to as Pleasant "Cousin
Joe" Joseph, "Cousin Joe" Pleasant and alternatively "Smilin'
Joe." He began his musical career with a ukulele and moved to piano
later.Cousin Joe was also a well-regarded dancer. His affiliations included
the bands of Billie & DeDe Pierce, Paul Barbarin, Kid Rena and LuisRussell.
The pianist exudes an irresistible charm from the first note. The eleven
tunes fly by all to quickly and I had to play them over again. Hogwash
Junction Function is a killer tune and made me think that the late Cecil
Gant owed much to Cousin Joe. Joe's vocal and piano styles are best described
as rowdy and primitive but nonetheless "wonderful." My favorite
track on the Cousin Joe portion of this CD has to be She Ain't Such-A-Much.
It's a good example of why Cousin Joe was respected as a lyricist. Chicken
a la Blues begins with the opening bars of Avery Parish's famed After
Hours then segues into another Cousin Joe original.
The second half of New Orleans Piano Blues features one of the most imitated
pianists of the New Orleans revival period. In his liner notes, Brian
Wood relates the story that Alton Purnell was born upstairs at 726 St.
Peter Street in 1911. Fifty years later the street level portion of the
building opened as Preservation Hall. Oddly, Purnell never appeared at
the revivalists' shrine. He had moved to California in the mid 1950s and
toured the world. It's unusual too, that the two pianists on this CD actually
appeared on the same bill at The Famous Door in the early 1940s.
Purnell came into prominence with Bunk Johnson's 1945 revival outfit.
His presence was felt even earlier within the bands of Alphonse Picou,
Isaiah Morgan, Sidney Desvigne and Louis "Big Eye" Nelson. Perhaps
his most famous work comes from the time spent with the George Lewis band
before 1957. His 1958 vinyl album "Funky Piano-New Orleans Style"
hasheld a prime spot in my collection for about forty years.
This session was recorded live in Sydney, Australia during a 1965 tour.
While there is a slight "wow" on the Alton Purnell tracks, it
isn't distracting. The music is delightful and Alton Purnell was in greatshape
for the concert. His version of Yancey Special is truly original and better
than most other recordings that slavishly copied Jimmy Yancey. The same
applies to Alton's intense rendition of After Hours.
The pianist's "jackhammer" left hand dominates the boogie woogie
tracks and his unusual voice is well demonstrated on Gee Baby and Alberta,
a song synonymous with New Orleans performers. New Orleans Piano Blues
will appeal to both traditional jazz and blues enthusiasts.
- Richard Bourcier
Cadence Magazine - U. S. A.
Its title describing exactly what is contained within, New Orleans Piano
Blues combines two separate gigs, a decade apart and continents apart,
of Joseph Pleasant and Alton Purnell. Both Joseph and Purnell spent their
lives-which overlapped except for three-and-a-half years' difference in
their dates of birth and except for roughly two-and-a-half years' difference
between dates of death-pursuing careers in New Orleans Blues. The neatly
divided CD includes eleven tracks that Joseph (otherwise known as "Cousin
Joe") played in 1978 at the Pizza Express in London, while the remaining
eleven tracks capture one of Purnell's gigs in 1965 in Sydney. With fairly
raw vocal qualities and an attraction to orneriness in their lyrics, both
blues-men evoke laughter and smatterings of applause from their audiences,
and it becomes clear that what you hear is who they are. the authenticity
of their music being an extension of their personalities. Obviously a
labor of love.
- Bill Donaldson
Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine
I first came across Cousin Joe on a TV broadcast back in the sixties
on a BBC Omnibus programme about the Blues, in which he was interviewed,
and played and sang a few tunes. I then discovered that fie appeared on
a recording made on Bourbon Street with Freddie Kohlman's Band ol I Saw
Mommy Kissing Santa (laus in December, 19S2. Although primarily a solo
pianist and Blues singer, he did have spells with various bands in and
around New Orleans, including A.J. Piron, Kid Rena, Paul Barbarin, Harold
Dejan, and Dave Bartholomew.
The recording on this CD by Cousin Joe was made at the Pizza Express,
London, in 1978, and is pretty representative of any of his performances.
There areeleven tracks of his, including many originals. The other eleven
tracks are handed over to New Orleans pianist Alton Purnell, who is the
archetypal band pianist, heard here in a solo role, recorded while on
tour in Australia in 1965. He was still in his prime, having been the
youngest member ol the Bunk Johnson Band, and is in his usual 'cheeky'
form, performing a few Boogie-Woogies, and i selection of songs long associated
with Alton, including Gee Baby, Ain'll6ood To You, Have You Seen My Kitty?,
and Lady Be Good.
An excellent opportunity to heartwo differing piano styles rooted in the
New Orleans tradition, and Bill Bissonnette has to be congratulated in
having the courage to produce a CD which will not be a Top Ten hit, but
will please those of us who still endear ourselves to the music of New
Excellent and comprehensive sleeve notes from Brian Wood round-off a highly
recommended release. If you are into these particular piano styles, then
put your cheque in the post to Bill at Jazz Crusade and order your copy.
- Peter Lay
Mississippi Rag - U. S. A.
New Orleans Piano Blues presents a fairly plain contrast, at least in
keyboard style, although Brian Woods' informative notes point out that
in "the early 1940s Alton Purnell was at the Famous Door (in New
Orleans) with Pleasant 'Cousin Joe' Joseph, who influenced his singing."
On the record, Purnell is the piano player here perhaps the most
influential of the post-'40s revival while Joseph is preeminently
a lyricist and singer/entertainer. Both worked extensively as solo acts,
but Purnell is even better known as the pianist of the Bunk Johnson and
George Lewis bands in their prime. Both traveled the world extensively
Joseph's tracks were recorded at a Pizza Express in London, Purnell's
in Sydney, Australia.
Joseph, born 1907 and Purnell's senior by four years, is in fine and funny
form here, his theatrical laughter underlining his punchlines and serving
as addenda throughout his vocals. His piano playing is minimal, indeed
skeletal, but still keeps his singing company effectively. It shows how
little a confident performer really needs in that line. His peculiar gift
shines through whether he's singing his own songs, like "Down and
Out Man" ("I wrote this last night!") or appropriating
the songs of others, like Ray Charles' "I've Got News for You."
"Hog-wash Junction Function" reveals a certain kinship, if not
a debt, to the spirit of Louis Jordan, born a year after Joseph. Of the
two, Jordan was much the more polished, Joseph the funkier.
Purnell's set exemplifies his normal performance range, including standards
("Lady Be Good," "Who's Sorry Now?") and the odd novelty
("Have You Seen My Kitty?") but the meat and potatoes are the
blues, whether classic ("Yancey Special," "Stagger Lee")
or home-grown ("Impromptu Blues," "Alberta"). What
he and Joseph share, besides their Louisiana heritage, is good-natured
energy and a determination to entertain. And, of course, the blues, in
whose house there are so many mansions. To those listeners who prefer
the basement, or ground floor, of the blues for example, those
who favor the products of Charlie Booty in Milan, Tennessee both
these CDs are bound to appeal.
- Jim Leigh
EuroClubdeJazz.com - Internet Jazz
A wonderful CD of superbly contrasting piano styles that date back to
the dawn of blues and jazz. These men can be said to be two of the finest
of the pioneers. The Cousin Joe tracks were recorded in London at Pizza
Express and the 'live' nature of the performances are somehow very heart-warming.
You can feel Joe responding to the smiles, grins and chuckles of the crowd
as he sings his saucy lyrics - just as he would have done in bar rooms
across the South of America years ago. His are crude, raw blues and his
unsophisticated - primitive even - piano is at the very root of where
it all came from. Great stuff that it's a rare pleasure to be able to
Alton Purnell on the other hand was in his later years a relatively sophisticated
pianist and a regular with both the Bunk Johnson and George Lewis bands
of the 'revival' period. Here though we get the opportunity to hear what
it was that bars in Los Angeles heard when they employed him as a pianist
after his band days were over. His work here is another mirror on the
early days - perhaps even the piano and singing on the legendary 'professors'
of the brothels of New Orleans 'red light' area Storyville which was one
of the cradles of some types of jazz. This is wonderfully atmospheric
stuff - an audience with an important jazz master. It's available from
good record shops are direct from Jazz Crusade.
- Brian Harvey
Jazz Journal International - British
This CD from Bill Bissonnette's label features two pianist/vocalists:
Alton Purnell, greatly admired by many for his work live and on record
with the Bunk Johnson and George Lewis bands will need no introduction.
Here he appears in his other role as a solo entertainer. His piano playing
is a nice mixture of rumbustious blues and boogie playing, aggressive
and exciting. His high-pitched voice is heard on several tunes which were
associated with him over the years: Gee, Baby Ain't I Good To You is slow,
Have You Seen My Kitty, uptempo are typical examples and there is more
vocalising on a briskly uptempo Oh, Lady Be Good. Stagger Lee and Alberta
have fine lyrics from near prehistoric times but the remaining six tracks
have no vocals. Yancey Special is a straight tribute, with that famous
Yancy bass configuration. Probably my favourite cut is Impromptu Blues,
a quality performance - note the quoted reference to Willow Weep For Me.
Alton's Boogie is brisk, showy and brief and is preceded by a good St.
Louis Blues, the set concluding with Erskine Hawkins's After Hours. All
this swings along very nicely indeed: the piano sound has been captured
in pretty good audio quality, but it must be said that the actual instrument
certainly was the world's greatest! Alton's stomping foot is prominent
and the enthusiastic audience enjoyed every minute of it.
Pleasant Joseph, alias Cousin Joe is not so well known as Purnell and
was pretty limited as a pianist - by his own admission "I didn't
but play in Bb and Eb". Joe has fun singing his own lyrics, accompanied
by guffaws and laughs. At slow to medium tempos - Mess Around is a primitive
boogie, based on the Pine Top Smith theme. "Wouldn't give a blind
sow an acorn, a crippled crab a crutch" sum up the ethos of She Ain't
Such A Much]
Liner note writer Brian Wood has done a good job by both artists, giving
an informed and informative run down on their careers. Photos by Dave
Ben-nett, who also recorded Cousin Joe's performance at London's Pizza
Express. An unpretentious butenjoyable issue. Recommended.
- Pat Hawes
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