Hallelujah Train album cover
MEGAWAVE Records MEGW 0192
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Blues and boogie-woogie pianist Mark Lincoln Braun (a.k.a. Mr. B) is a rare living link to the first generation of blues and boogie pianists. Steeped in the rich legacy of this tremendously exciting music, Mr. B learned directly from blues and boogie legends like Little Brother Montgomery, Boogie Woogie Red, and Blind John Davis. The Bird of Paradise Orchestra, now known as The Paul Keller Orchestra, has grown into one of the most active and acclaimed bands in Michigan, with a repertoire ranging from classic to the more experimental jazz charts. Here, B's compositions and favorites are fleshed out by the big band sound, and the BOPO moves towards a bluesier take on hard swing.
 
1 Hallelujah Train (4:10)
Composed by Mark Braun; Arranged by David Froseth; SKR Publishing (BMI)
 
2 Brauny (5:04)
Composed by Paul Keller; Arranged by Paul Keller; Paul Keller Music (BMI); SKR Publishing (BMI)
 
3 One Room Country Shack (8:15)
Composed by Mercy Dee Walton; Arranged by Paul Keller; Venice Music (BMI)
 
4 My Sunday Best (7:10)
Composed by Mark Braun; Arranged by Paul Finkbeiner; Pen-Tone Publishing (BMI)
 
5 Little Brother (6:38)
Composed by Mark Braun; Arranged by Paul Klinger; Viper Music
 
6 Down the Road Apiece (5:25)
Composed by Don Raye; Arranged be Gene Bartley; MCA Inc. (ASCAP)
 
7 Mardi Gras in New Orleans (5:13)
Composed by Professor Longhair; Arranged by David Froseth; Professor Longhair Music (BMI)
 
8 Air Mail Special (4:32)
Composed by Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian; Arranged by Chris Smith; Regent Music (BMI)
 
9 La Bailarina (6:26)
Composed by Mark Braun; Arranged by David Froseth; SKR Publishing (BMI)
 
10 Deep Excavation (6:32)
Composed by Mark Braun; Arranged by Paul Keller; Pen-Tone Publishing (BMI)
 
11 B's Boogie Woogie (10:25)
Composed by Paul Keller, Mark Braun, and Mark Hynes; Arranged by Paul Keller and Mark Hynes;
Paul Keller Music (BMI); SKR Publishing (BMI)
 
Personnel for The Bird of Paradise Orchestra:
Paul Keller - Leader / Bass
Mark Braun - Piano
Pete Siers - Drums
Cary Kocher - Vibraphone / Percussion
 
Saxophones:
Scott Petersen (Alto Saxophone)
Mark Hynes (Soprano & Tenor Saxophones)
Keith Kaminski (Soprano, Alto & Tenor Saxophones)
Paul Klinger (Soprano & Baritone Saxophones)
 
Trumpets:
Paul Finkbeiner
Brandon Cooper
Jeff Gedz
 
Trombones:
Chris Smith
John Paxton
Gene Bartley
 
 
Special Guests:
Walter White (Trumpet)
George Bedard (Guitar)
David Froseth (Percussion)
 
Members of The Bird of Paradise Orchestra Who Do Not Appear On This Recording:
Dr. Harvey Reed (Piano)
Susan Chastain (Vocalist)
 
Hallelujah Train:
Original Release on Schoolkids' Records (SKR 1527)
Produced by Mr. B and Paul Keller
Executive Producer: Steve Bergman
Recording Engineer (Ark Sessions): Jim Gibeau
Assisted By Ron Lett
Mixed by Eric Morgeson at Studio A, Dearborn
Assisted by Todd Fairall
Piano Technician: Dale Heikkinen
Recorded live at the Ark, Ann Arbor, Michigan, January 7, 1995
except "B's Boogie Woogie": Recorded at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival, September 3, 1994.
 
B's Boogie Woogie (additional credits):
Produced by WEMU, Ypsilanti, MI, in association with
WDET, Detroit, MI
Executive Producer: Art Timpko
Site Producer: Tamar Charney
Recording Engineer: Jim Anderson
Recording Assistant: Harold Beer
Mixed live to two-track by Jim Anderson
Sound Reinforcement by Ariel Enterprises
Special Thanks to the Detroit Federation of Musicians
The Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival is produced by Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.
 
All Arrangements by SKR Publishing (BMI)
 
MEGAWAVE Records Re-Issue:
Remastered by John Palmer at Andro-Media
 
Photography: David Smith
Art Direction: Williams & Williams, Inc.
Layout: Brian G. Harte and John Palmer
 
 
Introduction
 
Mr. B and the Bird of Paradise Orchestra come from different musical bases. Mr. B (Mark Lincoln Braun, B for short) is one of the premier boogie-woogie and blues piano stylists of his generation. He has earned a considerable reputation from six highly acclaimed recordings and appearances at major blues, jazz, and folk festivals throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Europe. He has also been a longtime favorite in Ann Arbor, where he makes his home, because of his electrifying performances and his commitment to the rich and varied musical community of the region. The Bird of Paradise Orchestra, under the direction of Paul Keller, took its name from Ann Arbor's premier jazz club, where it has played on Monday nights since 1989. Over the years it has added many other venues in the greater Detroit area while growing steadily in power, originality, and popularity. Until B and Paul began discussing some possibilities in the spring of 1994, the two entities had led separate musical lives. But unlike a lot of ideas that never get beyond the talking stage, this time something really happened. They're both delighted at how this collaboration took off and surprised by the extraordinary synergy that has occurred.
 
Here each visits the other's home turf, and part of the result is a fascinating new way of orchestrating boogie and blues. But there's also the excitement and risk-taking of a new joint venture that captures the vital spirit of American blues-based music and enhances both sides of the equation. B's compositions are fleshed out by the full big band sound as he expands from its roots to embrace a variety of jazz piano styles.
 
The BOPO moves further toward bluesier, more passionate playing by taking on hard-swinging material not in the standard big band book.
 
The Concept
 
Mr. B had been thinking for some time about adding horns and a rhythm section to his musical approach. A few years ago he organized a forerunner of the present collaboration for the Frog Island Festival in Ypsilanti called Mr. B's Blue Turbulence, named after a Jay McShann tune. Paul and BOPO were not involved in that project, but it served as a starting point for discussion. B and Paul explored combining piano and orchestra in ways that would bridge categorical boundaries to produce boogie and blues in a jazz context, and jazz with a particularly strong blues base. But mainly they wanted to create music that would be emotionally powerful,
accessible, joyful, and swinging. At this point Jim Dulzo, the producer of the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, became an important catalyst in the collaboration by offering a spot in the 1994 festival lineup. With a definite high-profile gig on the horizon, discussions increased and rehearsals began.
 
Inspiration for the sound they were seeking came from such diverse elements as Basie, Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, the Herman Thundering Herds, Erskine Hawkins, Tiny Grimes, Wynonie Harris, Louis Jordan, Jay McShann, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis. I can also hear something of the emotional abandon of the Mingus bands. Yet there's no single example comparable to the synthesis of pounding piano and burly big band happening here. Important ingredients in this recipe are the writing and arranging. Of the eleven tunes included here, seven are originals (five by B and two by Paul), and all the arrangements are by members of the BOPO. This project required exceptional participation by all 17 individuals, and that level of involvement is evident in the intensity of the playing.
 
Mr. B
 
Mark Braun was born and raised in the Detroit area. He developed an interest in the piano early and listened to a wide range of blues and jazz styles. In the mid 70's, playing with Steve Nardella in Ann Arbor triggered a strong interest in boogie-woogie. At that time the Blind Pig was an important venue for boogie and blues piano,
and young Mark soaked it in, eventually becoming a disciple of the legendary Boogie Woogie Red, who played there regularly. He also established close relationships with Little Brother Montgomery and Blind John Davis. This direct contact with the masters remains a strong presence in B today. He has managed to combine an authentic grasp of the idiom with the development of an original voice.
 
While still a boogie disciple, Mark was listening to a variety of modern jazz pianists, especially those with strong blues roots, including Ray Bryant, Horace Silver, and Monty Alexander. With the passing of his mentors and his own development, this interest has intensified. B's last release on Schoolkids, My Sunday Best, shows a skillful incorporation of jazz influences with his basic boogie. The present teaming with the BOPO is an even bigger step in broadening and enriching his musical range.
 
Paul Keller
 
Paul Keller studied music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor but got his early playing experience in the Grand Rapids area. Paul moved to Ann Arbor in 1982 to work with pianist Eddie Russ and has been busy ever since. He has worked with just about everybody in the Ann Arbor-Detroit area and with a host of internationally known jazz greats including Joe Williams, Cab Calloway, Panama Francis, Oliver Jones, Mark Murphy, Mulgrew Miller, Jay McShann, Doc Cheatham, Breanford Marsalis, and Barry Harris. In addition to directing the BOPO, Paul leads the Keller/Kocher Quartet with vibraphonist Cary Kocher (their second album, Pipe and Slippers, on Schoolkids is scheduled for release in 1996), and the Paul Keller Ensemble, a three-horn sextet showcasing Paul's numerous original compositions and arrangements. Paul and drummer Pete Siers have toured the U.S. and Europe with guitarist Russell Malone since 1992 and appear on Malone's Columbia release, Black Butterfly.
 
BOPO
 
Under Paul's leadership, the BOPO has grown into one of the most active and acclaimed bands in Michigan. It has an enormous repertoire, including classic and obscure material from the origins of jazz to the present. It consists of professional musicians from throughout southeastern Michigan who love the power, swing, and discipline of a well-oiled big band. The personnel has been remarkably consistent, considering the difficulties of keeping a large group together. A reliable core of players has been there since the beginning, including Paul Finkbeiner, Paul Klinger, Gene Bartley, and Pete Siers. Shortly thereafter came the outstanding soloists Mark Hynes and Scott Petersen. And while some personnel changes may occasionally occur, the BOPO's personality is now well established. Not coincidentally, it resembles its leader: hard-driving, extroverted, high-spirited, and obviously enjoying the music. That this description also fits Mr. B helps explain why the present collaboration comes off so well, in spite of the different backgrounds.
 
The Music
 
All of the selections were recorded in performance, the first ten at The Ark in Ann Arbor on January 7, 1995, and the last one at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, Labor Day weekend 1994.
 
The opner, "Hallelujah Train," is a joyful Mr. B original with a hand-clapping, sanctified feeling. David Froseth's arrangement creates call and response patterns while the band accompanies B's piano solo like a choir.
 
"Brauny," written and arranged by Paul Keller, is a tribute to Mr. B. It has all the elements that make this collaboration work so well: rich, hard-driving ensemble passages, stompin' boogie piano from B, a wailing tenor sax solo by Mark Hynes, and a blues-tinged guitar statement from George Bedard. Paul says the structure of the composition is adapted from the Sam Jones tune "Unit 7." "One Room Country Shack" might be sub-titled "Country Meets City." B notes that this old tune is as raw and primitive as blues can get and marvels at what Keller's arrangement adds without losing the original country feel. The lazy, greasy atmosphere is enhanced by B's earthy vocal and a marvelous down-home guitar solo by Bedard. Scott Petersen preaches passionately on alto before B returns to take it out.
 
"My Sunday Best"is a Mr. B tune superbly arranged by Paul Finkbeiner. We're back in church here, with a brass choir intro, followed by bid band gospel shouting and B's boogie piano. There's three-way testifying by Hynes' tenor, John Paxton's trombone, and Brandon Cooper's trumpet, plus some Mingus-style frenzy before the choir returns to settle things down.
 
"Little Brother" is B's heartfelt tribute to an important influence, Little Brother Montgomery. B recalls a youthful period of seeking out piano masters and tells of showing up unannounced at Little Brother's house in Chicago. After asking B to play, Little Brother disappeared, causing B to fear the worst, but he had gone to call Sunnyland Slim, who joined them for a memorable afternoon. Paul Klinger's arrangement conveys a relaxed aura of Jimmie Lanceford and McKinney's Cotton Pickers, with warm solos by Petersen (alto), Keth Kaminski (soprano), Finkbeiner (trumpet), Klinger (Bari), and B.
 
Of "Down the Road Apiece" B says "This is as close as you can get to 1930's eight-to-the-bar boogie." Gene Bartley's arrangement provides a sympathetic framework for B to really stretch out here, and Hynes delivers one of his most riveting tenor solos.
 
"Mardi Gras in New Orleans" is a Crescent City street party arranged by Froseth. B Whistles and sings in the best Professor Longhair tradition. Finkbeiner and Petersen solo and then duel with gusto, which gets the whole band parading in that distinctive New Orleans groove.
 
B dedicates "Deep Excavation" to Horace Silver. Keller's arrangement showcases the search for blues roots suggested by the title. Paul describes the piece as sneaky: coming and going quietly and grabbing you before you know it. B's playing captures the strong left hand of Silver, and Cary Kocher takes a fine vibes solo over a powerful ensemble statement. Paxton's solo has elements of Tricky Sam Nanton's talking trombone, and Keller shows his ability here as a bass soloist.
 
"Air Mail Special" is perhaps the most mainstream big band tune in this collection. Chris Smith's supple arrangement allows the band to drive hard. The solos by Bedard (guitar) and Kocher (vibes) manage to evoke the spirit of Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton without being imitations. Cootie Williams' trumpet solo from an early recording of the tune is here transcribed for all for trumpets, followed by a burning Kaminski alto solo.
 
B says "La Bailarina" was inspired by a trip to Columbia and the influence of Eddie Palmieri. Froseth's arrangement makes the Latin flavor prominent, and B's playing here shows how far he can branch out from boogie. The stirring trumpet solo is by Walter White, who sat in on this session as a guest.
 
The finalé is from the first performance of Mr. B and BOPO at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival. Inspired by "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" and Ellington's famous Newport '56 "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," "B's Boogie Woogie" is composed and arranged by B, Keller, and Hynes. Paul talks glowingly of this piece because the arrangement's complexities merge with tremendous group emotion. Everyone plays with intensity. B's style incorporates elements of Pete Johnson, Jay McShann, and Ray Bryant. The saxophone duel between Hynes and Petersen is incendiary, and Finkbeiner's trumpet solo is his boldest. Keller says when they got to the final slowdown chorus, he could feel the whole project coming together, like Hallelujah Train pulling into the station.
 
There is much to admire in this collaboration: the concept and execution, the intricacies of writing and arranging, the meeting of musical minds and souls, the plain hard work and determination to see it through. What finally strikes me about this project is a pervasive feeling of trust, respect, sharing, and love from everyone involved. It's certainly apparent in talking with the musicians, who speak of the experience in ways that suggest a kind of spiritual bonding has occurred. And more importantly for the listener, it's apparent in the music itself. The power and energy and basic soulfulness will come through this recording and speak to you directly. The world could use more of what happened here.
 
George Klein
The Groove Yard
WEMU 89.1 fm
Ypsilanti, Michigan
 

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