The Jazz Crusade Audio Sampler Catalog
JCCD-3091: New Orleans Piano Blues - Cousin Joe/Alton Purnell

Personnel: 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, Goodnight Sweetheard

Personnel: Alton Purnell [piano/vocal]
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

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Reviews for:
JCCD-3091: 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 Orleans.
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 Radio

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 hear.
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 Jazz Magazine

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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