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Roger Beaujolais Quartet – ‘Bags Of Vibes’

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    Posted: 26 May 2024 at 2:13pm
Roger Beaujolais Quartet – Bags Of Vibes

(Stay Tuned Records ST013. Album review by Mark McKergow)

ROGER BEAUJOLAIS - Roger Beaujolais Quartet : Bags Of Vibes cover

This delicious new set from vibes maestro Roger Beaujolais celebrates both the legendary musician Milt Jackson and the blues with fine performances and more than a touch of class.

Roger Beaujolais is celebrating his 40th year as a professional vibraphonist. Emerging extravagantly ponytailed into the 1980s acid jazz/dance/jive scene with the Chevalier Brothers, he has stayed true to the tuned percussion line by performing in many settings including a regular slot with Fairground Attraction. Now the ponytail has transmogrified into a beard of ZZ Top proportions, Beaujolais is still entranced by classic jazz and in particular how it can be performed on vibes.

Milt Jackson (1923-1999) was, of course, one of the greatest vibes players of all. Nicknamed ‘Bags’ (apparently because even as a young man he had bags under his eyes), Jackson was a mainstay of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) for over four decades. Tuxedoed and tidy, the MJQ are credited with taking jazz into the concert hall with their polished, restrained cool-school performances. Jackson wrote the classic 12-bar head Bags’ Groove and loved to play the blues, particularly at slow to medium tempos. This album Bags Of Vibes, recorded in 2017 and delayed by the pandemic, is both a tribute to Jackson and his music, a celebration of the vibraphone which first went on sale in 1924, and a wonderful excuse to lay down some great jazz.

The album opens with Blues For Bags, Roger Beaujolais’ own original tribute to Jackson. And of course, it’s a swinging blues which also features guest guitarist Jim Mullen who joins the quartet for three numbers. Milt Jackson performed and recorded with Wes Montgomery, and so Mullen’s Wes-inspired thumb picking style sits superbly well in the mix. The band comprises Robin Aspland (piano), Simon Thorpe (double bass) and Winston Clifford (drums), all Beaujolais regulars and right on top of the music throughout.  

The album continues by picking up some class Bags numbers from down the years. John Lewis’ tune Django, written for the MJQ, is taken at a lilting tempo with solos from Beaujolais and Aspland, bookended by the slower intro/outro section. Wes Montgomery’s Jingles is tailor-made for Jim Mullen to stretch out on, which he does with verve and precision. Several Milt Jackson compositions follow; Some Kinda Waltz springs along in triple time while the swaggering SKJ, taken from the 1962 album Bags Meets Wes!, is another chance for Mullen to shine.

Heartstrings offers the musicians the chance to relax into a ballad, with Beaujolais particularly effective in his statement of the theme and subsequent solo. Come To Me goes relaxed bossa with Simon Thorpe nicely gymnastic on double bass; whoever engineered the sound please take a bow, the bass tone is superb, even on my small speakers. Artie Shaw’s Moonray was a Jackson favourite; the take here is swinging and soulful. The album closes – inevitably – with Bags’ Groove, downtempo, grooving and irresistible.

This album is a joyous celebration with top-class playing and great numbers throughout. Highly recommended for long-time Jackson fans or for anyone eager to hear what the vibraphone can do in very skilled hands.

LINKS: TOURING. (Roger Beaujolais is touring with his quartet, latin quartet and Fairground Attraction in the coming months, including some special ‘100 Years Of Vibraphone’ concerts.)
Bags Of Vibes on Bandcamp
Martin Chilton’s LJN preview of Bags Of Vibes

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