Jazz Pharaohs, Suzi Stern & Terry Bowness, and David Chenu

Jazz sides

Phases and Stages

One of Austin's quiet little musical secrets is the Jazz Pharaohs, a group for whom the Ellington adage "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" is their stock and trade. Led by clarinetist and vocalist Stanley Smith, this feisty ensemble of good-time swingsters has held down a Wednesday evening happy hour gig at the Elephant Room for five years now. Old Man Time (Buffalo Records) is a set of well-worn swing standards the band has played for years, and they ease effortlessly into the bluesy grooves like a pair of comfortable old shoes. The twin guitars of Slim Richey and Dave Biller, swapping lead and rhythm chores, propel the band through chestnuts like Django's "Minor Swing" and Seela's vocal turn on "Love Me or Leave Me." Trombonist Freddie Mendoza and guest trumpeter Martin Banks add some brassy spicing to the mix. You won't find any surprises here, but the attraction is swingingly clear. On a more temperate note is Lament (Aardvark Records), on which vocalist/lyricist Suzi Stern and pianist Terry Bowness collaborate on an intimate mix of familiar tunes, originals, and a couple of popular modern jazz gems to which Stern has provided lyrics. The tone is subdued throughout as Stern's evocative and sometimes haunting voice dances gracefully with the thoughtful and eloquent musings of Bowness' trio. While it's intriguing to hear Stern's lyrics applied to Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" and J.J. Johnson's title track, the standouts are fresh takes of Lennon & McCartney's "I've Just Seen a Face" and Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now." Young local saxman David Chenu is someone to keep your eye on. If his debut, One, is any indication, he should have a bright future ahead. Most noteworthy are his original compositions, which place him firmly in a modernist mode with an occasional nod to the blues. Chenu proves to be a solid player, well versed in this expressive language. The duet gigs played by Chenu and guitarist Jacob Wise bear fruit here in the compatible interplay that shines throughout the date. With this fine debut, we should eagerly anticipate chapter two.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Fall Platters
Jeff Lofton
Jericho (Record Review)

Michael Toland, Nov. 29, 2019

Texas Platters
Golden Dawn Arkestra
Darkness Falls on the Edge of Time (Record Review)

Rick Weaver, Sept. 20, 2019

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Jay Trachtenberg’s Top Books of 2021
Jay Trachtenberg’s Top Books of 2021
In a lost year, retrospectives and reprints with new context were comfort reads

Dec. 17, 2021

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to

April 16, 2021

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle