Let’s see: trumpet, tenor sax, banjo, and tuba? Tunes that smash modern jazz, klezmer, Celtic, bluegrass, and New Orleans styles together with cracked abandon? On paper, Banjo Hockey sounds like a little bit of a mess, but in practice Tim Posgate has cracked the code to a new form of jazz, one that’s wildly creative but that also has plenty of populist appeal.
Posgate, a Toronto guitarist who turns to his trusty banjo for most of this disc’s 11 tunes, has a keen ear for melody and an even better one for supportive collaborators. On Banjo Hockey, he scores big points for enlisting jazz legend Howard Johnson, a veteran tuba and baritone sax player who’s worked with the Gil Evans Orchestra, Taj Mahal, and the Band, among many others. But the other Hornband horns—Lina Allemano on trumpet and Quinsin Nachoff on tenor sax and clarinet—are equally attuned to their leader’s playful, genre-bending ways.
Whether channelling the spirit of Louis Armstrong and friends on “Big Top Blues”, adding Eastern European spice to a funky hoedown on “Moosamin Eh!”, or sounding like a tiny big band on “Going to the Island”, these four make smart music that’s also unusually friendly. In fact, it’s hard to listen to this disc without cracking a smile; it’s a rough-hewn yet highly sophisticated treat from start to finish.