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Woodman, spare that tune!—Thy ax shall harm it not!

July 10, 2010

An incomplete review of a concert by Woody Allen’s jazz band at Copley Symphony Hall in December 2006. I regret not being able to publish this review because the title is a pun on an obscure 19th-century popular song.

The Woody Allen Band--not sure where this photo was taken, but it looks like the same contingent I saw at Copley Symphony Hall in Dec. 2006

Band: Woody Allen, clarinet; Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, piano; Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Jerry Zigmont, trombone; John Gill, drums; Greg Cohen, bass.

Woody Allen’s Dixieland band is anchored by a veteran master of the forgotten art of jazz banjo, musical director Eddy Davis, who kept the rhythm jumping. Many of his players sport impressive credits—Greg Cohen is also Tom Waits’s bass player and plays in John Zorn’s band, Masada, and in other Zorn projects. The musicians’s solos were of variable quality, but occasionally they struck fire—particularly some crackling work by Australian trumpeter Simon Wettenhall and outbreaks of fancy stride piano by Zambian-born Conal Fowkes.

Their huge repertoire ranged all over the old-timey spectrum, with frequent incursions into gospel (“Over in the Glory Land,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Down by the Riverside”), a tune Bob Wills put his stamp on (“Corrine, Corrina”), and novelties like “Aba Daba Honeymoon.” No tune was too humble or homely for them — even “Home, Sweet Home” or “Listen to the Mocking Bird.”

Allen remains a throwback to an older style of jazz clarinet playing — punching out the notes, peppering his passages with smears and other rubbery comic effects. On this night, though, he seemed to have problems with his reeds or perhaps battled an instrument malfunction; with a buzzing tone in the lower register, he sounded as if he was overblowing too much. Oddly enough, he had more success with the faster tunes in the upper register.

Happily, Allen still has the enthusiasm of an amateur in the best sense. When the band came back for encores, Allen stretched the set well beyond the announced 90 minutes, striking up tune after tune after tune, even getting off his best solo of the night.

At the end, he unloaded a line that could only have come from the self-mocking character he created: “You can finally decide for yourself whether my movies are worse or my clarinet playing!”

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