They call it the “Kansas City swing”. I call it “The Big Groove”. Drummer Kevin O’Donnell has returned with his Quality Six. Together, they have brought us their second LP Control Freak, an album that is kind of hard to find words for. It’s jazz, it’s blues, it’s old timey and new timey and yeah, it swings baby. Boy does it swing. This is one of those legit hipster discs you can put on during your next cocktail party and get things shaking. O’Donnell has The Big Groove secure in his back pocket.
Frankly, I’m glad that everyone finally turned away from the silliness that such “hot jazz” groups like the Squirrel Nut Zippers laid down. Oh, I liked ‘em enough, but the whole thing just turned too damn camp way too fast. And really, did anyone get excited about the Zippers’ last release? I sure didn’t. But hey, here the Quality Six manages to lay down that same kind of manic dance-happy rhythm while maintaining a sense of originality. And originality counts for a lot these days when it comes to music such as this. O’Donnell manages to work such diverse elements as hot jazz, ‘60s rock-a-go-go/Henry Mancini funk, cool blues, and traditional jazz all into one nice package that simply screams “Listen to me. I will be most kind to your ears and deliver that big musical payoff you secretly desire that is guaranteed to bring a big smile to yer chops”. So play on, dear listener.
The Quality Six features Andrew Bird on violin and vocals (he kicks that fiddle just like Sugarcane Harris at times), Chris Greene on alto and soprano sax, Josh Bell on tenor sax, Colin Bunn on most amazing gee-tar, and Josh Hirsch on slap-happy bass. They’re called the Quality Six for good reason. Nary a crummy note is to be heard from the band. Never a dull moment, blah blah blah, etc. Yes, this music is pure poetry and then some. Slow dancing, high jumping, cuttin’ the rug kinda fun that no one else seems to be doing nowadays. But that only makes Control Freak all the better.
You can see the black and white still from grainy old movies as you listen to “One Lonely Drum”. You can picture sweaty clubs packed tight through the night when “She’s Got the Apples” blasts away. You can feel reborn every time “Man Alive” plays. And you can get a real sense of pure nostalgia from “Tight and Long”. Yes, the Quality Six has a mood for every moment, a song for every situation. But most of all, it’s just a lot of fun. From the violin/sax/guitar interplay of “Control Freak” to the oddly sensual (and most sinister) “The Blanket Drag”, there’s nothing here that comes off as phony or pretentious. Kevin O’Donnell has those “mad skills” as the New Generation likes to say.
In a nutshell (and who doesn’t enjoy those), Control Freak is a fresh blast of tried and true formulas that still entertain. As I said, it’s not something you can easily write about. Oh, I’m sure the real jazz buffs could sit down and pick this one apart and place the cubes, triangles, and cylinders in all their right holes but that’s beside the point. An all around music fan like myself can simply tell you to go out and buy this one. I promise it’ll put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. And if you don’t like jazz, go out and buy it anyway. I’m sure you have a couple of Squirrel Nut Zippers or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy releases lying about your home. Well, this is better than any of that. Cross my heart, poke the needle in my face, and whatever else. Just give it a listen.