Viper Mad Trio – Buddy Bolden’s Blues (2014)

With so many traditional jazz artists fetishizing the oh-so-serious 1950s, it’s a breath of fresh air to find the Viper Mad Trio kicking up their heels amid the hipster — and determinedly happy — small-combo sounds that came before.

Fronted by Molly Reeves, who sings with a flirtatious chirp while adding a series of Django Reinhardt-esque flourishes on guitar, the Viper Mad Trio offer pluck where others have become lost in doomy seriousness through the course of the newly released Buddy Bolden’s Blues. That starts with the fizzy title track, better known around their adopted hometown of New Orleans as “Funky Butt,” and continues through Slim Gaillard’s “8, 9 and 10,” Lucky Millinder’s “Shorty’s Got to Go,” and Lillian Johnson’s “Hot Nuts.”

When the California-bred Viper Mad Trio, completed by Kellen Garcia (bass) and Ryan Robertson (trumpet, vocals), isn’t reanimating those winkingly salacious delights, they are enliving throwback paeans to reefer (“Sweet Marijuana Brown,” from Leonard Feather, and Sidney Bechet’s “Viper Mad,” from which they swiped the band name), beret-festooned cafe jazz (Dizzy Gillespie’s “I’m Beboppin’ Too”) and gangster moll ballads (“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”). Elsewhere, in a sign of their musical prowess, they somehow make exhuberant claims to both a Fats Waller/Louis Armstrong vehicle (“I’m Confessin’ That I Love You”) and another song associated with Hank Williams (“Bucket’s Got a Hole In It”).

And yet Buddy Bolden’s Blues isn’t a goof. This chin-wagging pre-World War II rave up, issued by Sound of New Orleans Records, is anchored in both tradition and personal relationships. Reeves is actually following in the footsteps of a great aunt who made her own pilgrimage to Louisiana in search of a life in music, while Garcia and Robertson have known each other since playing together at Sacremento State as graduate students. That deeper relationship with each other, and with the music, is what brings these songs — and Buddy Bolden’s Blues — to life.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.