Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri formed the EarRegulars in 2007. The band's weekly residency at New York's Ear Inn has continued ever since, the trumpeter and guitarist working with an ever-changing roster of players. For this album, the band's second, clarinettist Evan Christopher and bassist Kerry Lewis join in the fun – and fun In The Land Of Beginning Again most certainly is.
Most of the tunes are well-established if not well-known. The quartet plays each one with an authentic flair and a laid-back, low-key approach that reflects the spatial limitations of the Ear Inn (even though the album was recorded in a New Orleans studio). The musical interplay is complementary rather than combative: epitomized by Kellso and Christopher's interaction on S'posin'. The mid-tempo jollity of Louis Armstrong's New Orleans Stomp opens proceedings, Benny Carter and Irving Mills' Blues In My Heart showcases the EarRegulars' fragile and tender side, Kissing My Baby Goodnight and Once In A While give Kellso a chance to play with a little more attack as his colleagues maintain a more relaxed style.
Of the three original tunes, Kellso's EarRegularity displays ragtime influence, his Out Of The Gate is a lively swinger. Christopher's Surrender Blue (El Azul De La Rendicion) is a lovely ballad, centered on a duet between Christopher's warm-toned clarinet and Munisteri's finger-picked guitar.
Connoisseurs of cover design might like to note that the artwork for In The Land Of Beginning Again is by rising-star vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant. Next time round, if the EarRegulars could persuade her to pick up a microphone as well as a paint brush there could be a classic album in the making.
~ Bruce Lindsay | Jazz Journal | ⭑⭑⭑⭑