Review: The Grand St. Express
The American Rag, October 2011

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Jazz festival directors who complain “there are no new bands out there” have only to check out the Grand Street Stompers to find out how wrong they are. If there's any drawback it’s that the Stompers are based on the East Coast and most of the festivals are west of the Mississippi. And rising travel costs are eating festivals alive.

However, the band has everything except location going for it. Musicians appear to be youthful, talented, energetic and not afraid to go outside the traditional jazz boxes. Moreover, the blood lines of leader Gordon Au are impeccable. He’s one of the three musical Au brothers from Sacramento, each a member of a family that has been immersed in jazz as long as most of us can remember.

Not so incidentally the three Au sibs will be performing along with their uncle, Howard Miyata (trombonist for the High Sierra Jazz Band) at the Pismo Beach festival later this month. That should be “Au-some!”

Back to the CD under consideration. The band is stocked with worthy musicians—many Easterners—and perhaps not as well known by West Coasters as they deserve to be.

Tenor saxist Dan Levinson, drummer Kevin Dorn, and the leader, who have broad recognition, are joined by [vocalist Tamar Korn,] clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, pianist Ehud Asherie, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, and bassist Rob Adkins. Keep in mind to check the jewel case to see who’s playing on what tracks and that includes cornetist and trumpeter Au who also is heard on piano and other instruments.

The tune list is inventive and therefore intriguing. For example: a rather unwound take of “Escallonia Rag” with Asherie in the driver’s seat on one of seven songs Au composed for the album. The versatile Au also contributed arrangements for all 11 songs.

Other selections of added importance include the title cut that creates the same feeling of urgency Ellington created for train songs. That’s Levinson, Lichtman, Asherie and Au pouring on the coal.

If “Thirtieth Street Thingamajig” is a mad sprint, and it is, then “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” is a leisurely 7-1/2 minute stroll through the park that gives everyone a shot at the melody but which emerges as a showpiece for the wah-wah mute work of Musselman and Au.

“Pavonis” also is a big winner because of the sheer beauty of the melody, Levinson’s warm sax and Au’s tasteful cornet artistry. Vocalist Tamar Korn’s “I’ll Be There For You,” an Au ballad, is treated with tenderness and longing by vocalist Tamar Korn, and is the most appealing of her three outings.

— Cam Miller

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