The Jazz Crusade Audio Sampler Catalog
JCCD-3096: Big Bill Bissonnette's International Jazz Band -
1997: "Live In Concert - 1st Half"

Personnel: Big Bill Bissonnette [trombone/vocal], Fred Vigorito [cornet], George Probert, Sarah Bissonnette [reeds], Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen [tuba/vocal], Pat Hawes [piano], Dave Brennan [banjo], Clint Baker [drums]
Songs: Dippermouth Blues, West End Blues, Exactly Like You, Rose Room, Don't Give Up the Ship, Careless Love, I Can't Escape from You. St. Louis Blues

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Reviews for:
JCCD-3096: Big Bill Bissonnette's International Jazz Band -
1997: "Live In Concert - 1st Half"

JazzReview.com - Internet Publication

Many years have passed since the first edition of Big Bill Bissonnette's International Jazz Band back in 1964. The original front-end featured Kid Thomas Valentine and Emanuel Paul from New Orleans, British clarinet star Sammy Rimington, and Big Bill on trombone. The rhythm section of New Englanders Bill Sinclair, Griff Griffith and Dick McCarthy pulsed along with British drummer Barry "Kid" Martyn. It was such a great band that it took Bissonnette 33 years to come up with the second edition.
The 1997 Internationals showcase British players Sarah Bissonnette, Pat Hawes and Dave Brennan. The American side of the big pond features Bill Bissonnette, George Probert, Fred Vigorito, Clint Baker and the late Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen. With the possible exceptions of Clint Baker and Sarah Bissonnette, most buyers of Jazz Crusade albums will be familiar with the musicians on this session. Engineer Dave Bennett recorded the band in Upton, England during a 1997 tour.
Dippermouth Blues kicks off the first volume and shows off the power of the octet and then West End Blues places emphasis on the dexterity of individual players. While cornetist Fred Vigorito will not replace Satchmo, this is a memorable version of a tune that is sacred to fans of vintage jazz. Vigorito is one of the most honest horn-men in the New Orleans style.
Pat Hawes wrote the colorful liner notes for these CDs and his romping piano style is felt throughout this concert. Hawes is a great "hot style" player and you'll also enjoy his Jazz Crusade album "That Salty Dog." Fans of the "Frisco" style of jazz will know all about reedman George Probert and drummer Clint Baker. Probert has been on the scene since the fifties and he's recorded with Kid Ory, Bob Scobey, George Brunis and Ward Kimball. Drummer Clint Baker is a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, drums, trombone, clarinet, guitar and bass. He has worked with Jim Cullum, Leon Redbone, Rosemary Clooney and Dan Barrett.
Wrapping up the rhythm section are banjoist Dave Brennan and "Tuba Fats" Lacen. Dave Brennan leads his own jazzband in England and was one of the pioneer performers at the renowned Bude Jazz Festival. Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen played his final bar at Tipitina's with his Chosen Few Brass Band on January 9, 2004. He died days later at the age of 53. Nobody loved New Orleans more than Tuba Fats. He was, in my opinion, the ultimate street musician. His Jazz Crusade album "Street Music" is essential to any collection of Crescent City music.
There are certainly some highlights on the International Jazz Band concert. The audience favorite, judging by the applause, was the Ellington medley of Mood Indigo and Creole Love Call. Leader, Big Bill Bissonnette's muted solo is especially impressive. Fine work by both reed-players and Vigorito make this a special track. Dancers will love Saxawoogie, an all-out barnburner giving everyone a chance to have fun and show their stuff. This rehash of "Kid Thomas Boogie Woogie" swings for almost nine minutes of happy laid back action. The two saxes do a helluva job on this riffin' number behind Pat Hawes' rollicking piano.
My wife is an ardent fan and collector of Just a Closer Walk and loves the version on this disk. Her undisputed favorite is a thirty-year-old New Orleans rendition by Bob French. Savoy Blues receives special treatment by the band. The tune has always been a staple of all the British bands but is often ignored on this side of the ocean. There's some very good jazz to be heard on Big Bill Bissonnette's latest release.
- Richard Bourcier


Boxell's Jazz Website - New Zealand

To those of the British/Scandinavian persuasion of New Orleans jazz, just remember your scripture and 'Be bold, be strong; for the Lord your God is with you'. Despite being an Anglo-American band BBB & his International Jazz Band play in a very contemporary American New Orleans style and thus it has a hard driven sound that is not often found in Britain and Scandinavia where New Orleans jazz so often equates to the more conservative Ken Colyer inspired style. Just don't be afraid, for although it may not be quite what you are used to, it is fun to listen to and very exciting.
This is the International Jazz Band's second edition; the first being in 1994. Big Bill himself roars away on trombone as only he can, Fred Vigorito stands out, as always, as a brilliant hot trumpet player, George Probert mixes and matches soprano and alto sax, and Sarah Bisonnette (nee Spenser) completes the front line on tenor and baritone sax. The back line comprises of ex-Colyer pianist Pat Hawes, Dave Brennan wearing his fingers out rhythmically on banjo, joined by Clint Baker on drums and Tuba Fats on, well, tuba of course.
Big Bill favors the 4:4 set up, whereas I am wary of it as too often the clarinet and sax clash. Well this time it can't happen, because there is no clarinet! This then leaves the question of how the two sax players get on. Very well actually, where they do occasionally trip on each others toes seems to be where Sarah is on tenor and George on alto, so maybe it is the two instruments being tonally close to each other that is the problem rather than the players ability to weaves round each other. To hear how well the two get on together you could listen to 'Exactly Like You', 'I Can't Escape From You' or 'Savoy Blues'. There is one tune, however, which for me has them really getting out of line: 'Saxawoogie'. I found the dueling saxes just a might too much for both my taste and ears. I would like to say at this point just how much I felt that Sarah had matured since the days when she lead the La Rue Conte Marching Band. There are times when she is still rather 'busy', but she has moved away from the constant 'spiraling' style she had with La Rue Conte. George, of course, is an old hand and I particularly appreciated his solo break on 'Careless Love' which demonstrates the power of the soprano sax once it is cut free from the shackles of excessive vibrato.
There is a lot here to listen to and enjoy from the raucous to the mellow; from the stirring to the maudlin (Tuba Fat's wife had died just before the tour and the medley 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee/West Lawn Dirge' is dedicated to her memory by Big Bill - just how Tuba managed to play after that I don't know, because if it were me I would have been tasting tears in my mouthpiece). Poor Tuba fats, a man with talent and personality to match his size, died earlier this year (2004) and in some ways these could be regarded as memorials to him, even though he isn't featured as such. Come on; buy this CD and walk on the wild side - be bold be strong!
- Geoff Boxell


Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine

Live jazz festival recording is a minefield of problems because many bands go 'over-the-top' and indulge in circus antics, tempos and histrionics and also because of the difficulty of getting a good balance of both the overall band sound and individual instruments. Big Bill Bissonette overcame the first problem by hand-picking for his 1997 International Touring Band a group of not only talented but also highly experienced musicians who in the main could and would avoid the temptation to 'go circus'. The second problem he overcame by having an engineer in the form of Dave Bennett who was able to get a fine balance and keep it throughout a hectic 'club' type evening - not en easy task. >From the first few choruses of the opener 'Dippermouth Blues' we know that here we're in for a treat of an evening. This first is an up-tempo romp in which all the participants leave their musical calling cards by taking choruses demonstrating not only their style and talents but also the moods
they're in for the evening. They set the pattern for over two hours of sometimes thoughtful, sometimes blue, sometimes romping very high quality jazz during which interest never falters. Take the second title for example - cornet man Fred Vigorito (he runs his own 'Galvanised Jazz Band' at home in Connecticut and one time had Woody Allen guest with him) essays Louis Armstrong's amazing work on the original 'West End Blues' and brings it off almost note perfectly but without this being a slavish copy. Fred adds his own twists and character to this great piece making it a super track.
All the participants add their own unique magic and rather than take you through all the tracks let's look at each contribution.. Fred Vigorito is authoritative with a fine tone. He occasionally punctuates his work with emphatic emotional 'flares' a little like Kid Thomas and in general provides both a sensitive, understanding lead with interesting creative solos. George Probert - on soprano and also saxes - a one-time stalwart of both the Kid Ory and Firehouse Five bands in America is full of original, sometimes startling ideas and when given the chance propels the band in exciting style. Big Bill Bissonnette has a fine tone with a good gruff sound. He knows his place in ensembles and solos well with good ideas contributing his best and most propulsive when muted. Tuba Fats Lacen - a stalwart of the New Orleans City music scene for generations is rhythmic and generally quite busy with a good tone. His vocals (Careless Love and Tiger Rag) are excellent. Pat Hawes piano work is excellent throughout being tasteful and always rhythmic. Pat is a master of many styles and when backing soloists tailors himself to each in turn helping them to make the most of their opportunities. His ensemble work too adds considerably to the overall success of the concert. Sarah Bissonette - is subdued at first and then on later tracks reveals herself as a storming, stomping, driving tenor and baritone exponent who would have done justice to the Duke Ellington orchestra's backing had she ever had the chance. Her playing is very exciting. Dave Brennan's banjo is actually rarely heard but always felt - he lifts the band rather than relying on mere plonking! Clint Baker on drums is excellent throughout. He listens to what's happening around him and does the right things in the right places always providing good time keeping and a generous dose of excitement.
Summary - in spite of the large front line and 'pick-up' nature of the band this is remarkably well disciplined stuff even on the most roaring stomping titles like 'Don't Give Up The Ship' which at times is as hectic and exciting as any Jazz At The Philharmonic jam session! There's an excellent sense of order throughout, a pleasing lack of ego displays with all the band working for each other. In other words these are first class CDs of exciting sometimes exhilarating jazz that make for very pleasing listening. For me there are several tracks that I'll return to again and again. There's one awful track however - the poor attempt of crowd-pleasing "Saxwoogie" - forget it but remember - but for the good sense of all involved here and Big Bill's unique ability to choose sympathetic fellow talents it could all have been like that.
- Brian Harvey


Cadence Magazine - U. S. A. magazine

Bissonnette's model is a rough-hewn late-period New Orleans ensemble, even when the band visits early Ellington, a 1940s Louis Jordan boogie, and assorted pop tunes. (The breadth of repertoire is one commendable aspect of this issue.) Admirably, Bissonnette has the courage of his convictions: he assembled this group for a concert tour, led the band, played trombone and sang, and issued the results on his own label. These CDs document one concert, recorded in what was apparently a large hall - a space that seems to have given master recording engineer Dave Bennett some trouble.
The band is uneven, with Vigorito and Hawes responsible for the best work, but they get the worst of the recording balance. Trumpet players in this idiom are often praised for "driving the band"; Vigorito has to drag this group along behind him. When he is unencumbered, he is a convincing player, mixing Armstrong flourishes with a serious hot lead. (His work has been a bright spot on other Jazz Crusade issues.) Hawes is, from what I could hear, an enthusiastic ensemble player, and his solos are flavorful.
The rest of the front line is a tangle of idiosyncrasies. George Probert has enthusiastic fans and has recorded a good deal, but his playing points out how hard it is to play the soprano saxophone in tune, without tonal eccentricities or painful high notes. (Probert's work cannot compare to that of Davern, Wilber, or Sims.) Big Bill Bissonnette, a forceful player, can execute only the most elementary phrases, although the glissandos on "Tiger Rag" are not beyond him. Taken alongside the work of Big Jim Robinson, his solos might seem praiseworthy, but they would sound amateurish in any other context. He also sings several times, a leader's prerogative, but his vocals are difficult to enjoy. Although he has a well-modulated speaking voice, he prefers a growly shout for extended vocals. (In contrast, Lacen's singing on "Tiger Rag," its lyric content little more than "Hold that tiger!" is a model of subtlety.) Sarah Bissonnette, whose relationship to Big Bill is never explicated, is also not a reticent player, but her reed improvising follows a late-1920s model, note-laden and stiff, as if Coleman Hawkins had never recorded. The other members of the rhythm section are competent but cannot rally the scattered forces on their own. Clint Baker (more often a bassist) emulates Dodds and Singleton in the distracting manner of Sammy Penn. Finally, the soloists take two and three choruses on each song, even when they seem to have played their best ideas in the first sixteen bars.
Some will praise the rough enthusiasm of these discs as "authentic" and "genuine," but the flaws are evident throughout. Perhaps, as the saying goes, you had to be there. No doubt the music sounded much better to the patrons who were elated by camaraderie and enlivened by refreshments.
- Michael Steinman


Mississippi Rag - U. S. A. Magazine

Big Bill Bissonnette puts bands together with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. One might expect, drums being one of the instruments which he plays with excellence, that he begins the concept of the rhythm section. While Clint Baker is a name that is new to me, as are so many of the musicians I have encountered on Big Bill's Jazz Crusade record label, he's got the New Orleans Paul Barbarin style down to a T. Banjoist Dave Brennan is another new and welcome addition to my record collection. Pianist Pat Hawes is a player I've heard on Jazz Crusade records of yore, but I find that I prefer him in this sort of band setting rather than when he's out in front trying to be "the entertainer." As for the late Tuba Fats Lacen, I regret that it took so long for our paths to cross that I barely had time to enjoy his rocksteady bass lines and his rollicking humorous way with a well-worn song lyric.
The horns in this 1997 edition of Big Bill's International Jazz Band are better known to me. I own and treasure several Jazz Crusade CDs on which Big Bill Bissonnette's way with the tailgate trombone tradition of New Orleans is something at which I never cease to marvel. Although Sarah Bissonnette (now Sarah Spencer, Bissonnette's ex-wife) is a reed player I'm hearing for the first time, she is most impressive both on her own and as part of a two-saxophone reed section in tandem with George Probert whom I remember fondly from some vintage vinyl LPs by the Firehouse Five Plus Two as a fine West Coast soprano player.
Yet to my ears, the driving force of the front line, as well it should be in the New Orleans tradition, is the invigorating playing of the Galvanized Jazz Band's cornet player, Fred Vigorito. Big Bill also shows himself to be an entertaining singer in the style of George Brunies of the New Orleans Brunies clan.
So, here it is, a souvenir from the final concert on the band's 1997 tour, less than perfectly recorded in a rambunctious sounding hall in Upton, England. Highlights? Plenty of'em. Just listen to the solid way that drummer Glint Baker stomps behind Probert's solo on "Exactly Like You," or Fred Vigorito's charging lead cornet on the opening "Dippermouth Blues." King Oliver would be proud to know he has a disciple of such quality more than a half a century after he first played that thing. And Big Bill's trombone work on Art Hickman's "Rose Room" is nothing short of spectacular.
But, best of all, this is a band made up of musicians who listen to each other and weave ensemble textures which are seamless and comfortable.
It is regrettable indeed that New Orleans blues and gospel singer Linda Young (Mrs. Tuba Fats Lacen) did not survive cancer, but her memory lingers on in the band's obviously heartfelt rendition of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" and "West Lawn Dirge," played in her memory. And why doesn't every tradixieland band the world over put "Climax Rag" into their repertoire? And will "Tiger Rag" ever sound quite the same without Tuba Fats whomping the hell out of the King of Beasts?
- Joe H. Klee


Jazz Gazette - Internet Jazz Publication

One has to admit that Bill Bissonnette played and stills plays an important role in promoting New Orleans music. Since the mid sixties, he brought numerous musicians from New Orleans up to Connecticut to either play with his Easy Riders or to play with 'All Star' bands such as the December Band. He also made some very important recordings in New Orleans which have become classics, such as the Jazzology Poll Winners, The Kid Thomas Band with Octave Crosby on piano, etc.
After his passage at the West Coast, where he continued employing and recording very interesting bands, such as the Bigard - Barnes - Alcorn Band (GHB-BCD-238-239) or Kid Thomas in California with John Handy (GHB-BCD-296), it became very quiet. In the mid 1980's, he started up a new Easy Riders band and after visiting France, Lyon and Mâcon, and Belgium, Big Bill became a regular at festivals, a.o. Ascona, and in clubs all over Europe. Big Bill was back in business!
This International Band toured Europe during Spring 1997. Fred Vigorito is the only 'original' Easy Rider present. I met Fred during a tour the Jazz Mâcon Club had organised for Fred, Bill Sinclair and Griff Griffith. I knew Fred from the records he made for Jazz Crusade and GHB, but live Fred was outstanding and led the band with a great drive and authority. He proved that he was a very great trumpet player. On these recordings, Fred leads this band of personalities with vigour.
Big Bill is not the most technical trombone player in the world, but he knows what he is doing and fills the holes and the gaps, like his hero, Big Jim, used to do in so many great bands. The reed section, Sara Bissonnette - George Probert, is a powerhouse. They keep the band rocking steadily.
Then there is the rhythm section. Dave Brennan led for many years his own band which was known for good New Orleans music. Pat Hawes played with the early Colyer bands and this is a guarantee for quality. Clint Baker is an excellent time keeper.
And then there is Anthony 'Tuba Fats' Lacen. In fact, these two CD's are a tribute to Fats and were prepared for release just before news reached us that Fats was deceased and they were released soon after his dead. This rhythm section swings like hell and they make from this band a great band.
Fred Vigorito excels on 'West End Blues', the reed section on 'Rose Room', Big Bill on 'Exactly Like You', etc. It seems it was Big Bill's dream to put together one day a band with musicians from all over the globe. The musicians did not come from all over, but even if they had not played together before this tour, they played some very fine New Orleans music in the tradition of the best.
- Jempi De Donder


Jazz Journal International—British Jazz Magazine

I remember well when Big Bill's International Jazz Band appeared in London in 1997, turning out to be a cohesive, well-organised group made up from diverse elements including three from our side of the Atlantic. If the band had a star, aside from Bissonnette himself, it had to be George Probert who mesmerised us all with his magical playing on soprano and alto. Nevertheless his work was entirely to the benefit of a cooperative whole, with often brilliant trumpet dynamics from Fred Vigorito, trademark vigour and earthiness from the leader and effective use of the lower reeds by Sara, balancing George's airiness.
With an excellent rhythm section featuring Pat Hawes's educated and inventive piano, Dave Brennan's light-fingered steadiness, the huge sound of Tuba Fats from New Orleans and the lively drumming of Clint Baker, the band made a great reputation for itself around Europe. One recording was issued soon after the visit (In The Gutter -JCC-3030) but this one from Upton-on-Severn, the local New Orleans Mecca, contains no overlap of material and will please all those who have fond memories of the band in the flesh and particularly, no doubt, those who were at this, the band's final performance. The notes by Pat Hawes reflect his pleasure in being part of the group, and the sound is pretty good considering the fact that it was recorded in a marquee.
This is also a fitting tribute to Tuba Fats, an influential musician and band-leader from the birthplace of jazz who made a lot of friends while he was over here and has sadly died in the meantime. Whether you want one or other of the CDs will depend on the choice of tunes, but both together make up a fitting memento of what was, evidently, a splendid evening.
- Christopher Hillman


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