Tom Waits – A Small Affair in Ohio: FM Radio Broadcast, Live in Cleveland 1977

2014 – Let Them Eat Vinyl


Let’s start by stating that anything in Tom Wait’s catalogue, past, present, or future, will get five stars from me. A Small Affair in Ohio, which I’m listening to on a UK only album pressing, is an FM broadcast of a live show from Cleveland in 1977.  Including Tom on vocals and piano, the band is a quartet of upright bass, Frank Vicari on tenor sax, and Chip White on drum-set (and vibraphone!!!). I can’t seem to figure out who the bass player is. During that time, he was touring with Fitzgerald Jenkins, but when Tom introduces the band, it doesn’t sound like that is the name he is saying (and his voice is hard to understand so I’m not sure who it is). If anyone out there knows who is the bassist, let me know. Anyway, Tom becomes a jazz singer on this performance; his articulations, phrasing, and placement of the beat all fit perfectly over the groove set up behind him by the band. If you close your eyes while listening to this, you will be transported to a small, dark, smoky speakeasy. This evoked mood is perfect for a cold New England night listening to vinyl and sipping some whiskey. The songs on this album feature a wide range of dynamics and orchestration, from vocals over a bass-line to the full quartet at top volume. On some tracks, the drummer starts on the vibraphone then jumps to the set for a sax solo or chorus. He is equally effective on both. The upright bass takes on a higher place in the mix than I’m used to, but it totally works, taking on a leading role in the band. Vicari’s sax playing has the perfect mix of old school jazz chops with the showmanship of an SNL-esque tone (he played in the SNL band in later years). I don’t really need to go into Tom’s musicianship, it is top notch.  For a good portion of the sax solos, Tom sits out, just letting the drums, bass, and sax go for it. Some of those instrumental moments are highlights of this show for me, featuring brilliant playing all around, but I don’t believe they would be as effective if they weren’t surrounded by Tom’s vocal delivery and piano comping. This band feeds off each other and they know when to leave space, they are masters of tension and release. It’s great to hear such a pared down version of what Mr. Wait’s does in a live setting. I’m glad that this performance was recorded, it is a great documentation of an amazing period of Tom Wait’s career. If you can get your hands on this album, I highly recommend it, if you can’t, listen to anything he does, it’s all spectacular.