Considering the collective personnel and an unusually close communication between these players, this disc is a serious contender for the "Best of Mezz" award. By 1936, Mezz Mezzrow had developed into an able clarinetist and an expert at putting together strong traditional jazz ensembles. There are five sessions' worth of material gathered together to form this segment of the Mezzrow chronology. Each date produced top-notch small band swing, played by some of the best jazz musicians in the world at that time. None of this is exaggeration. On the opening session, for example, the clarinetist is flanked by trumpeter Frankie Newton and tenor sax man Bud Freeman, backed by a rhythm section including Al Casey, Wellman Braud, and Willie "The Lion" Smith! This group's two-part rendition of Stuff Smith's "I'se a-Muggin'" is a very close cover of the somewhat smoother version cut two days earlier by Jack Teagarden with the Three T's, a leisure service of Paul Whiteman. While Teagarden's timing and tone was impeccable, part one of Mezz's take has a rather gruff vocal by the Lion, who sounded like a friendly cigar-gnawing gangster whenever engaging in theatrical patter. In his liner notes, Anatol Schenker accuses these musicians of being stoned or at least under-rehearsed. According to that criterion, most of the records made by Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Lester Young would be in artistic jeopardy simply on account of cannabis and spontaneity. Criticism of this sort is inaccurate, unfair, and misleading. Mezzrow's only 1937 session as a leader used three fine jam tunes that he composed in collaboration with arranger Edgar Sampson, and a formulaic stomp based on a simple but effective idea by Larry Clinton. This band swung hard with a front line of Sy Oliver, J.C. Higginbotham, Mezzrow, and tenor saxophonist Happy Caldwell, who expresses himself marvelously on these recordings. Like all the rhythm sections on this collection, the combination of Sonny White, Bernard Addison, Pops Foster, and Jimmy Crawford is first rate. Mezzrow was lucky, savvy, and well connected in lining himself up with Tommy Ladnier, Sidney de Paris, James P. Johnson, Teddy Bunn, Elmer James, and Zutty Singleton. Anyone familiar with this kind of music should be somewhat awed by that lineup. These were to be some of Ladnier's last recording dates, and should be savored along with the Bluebird sides he made with Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet during this same time period. "Comin' on with the Come On" is laid out in the classic Mezzrow two-part configuration of slow blues/fast blues. Sidney de Paris growls through his horn, mingling wonderfully with Ladnier. A second Bluebird session about one month later scaled the band down to a quintet with Ladnier and Mezzrow backed by Pops Foster, Teddy Bunn, and the no-nonsense drumming of Manzie Johnson. Bunn played guitar exquisitely and his vocal on "If You See Me Comin'" is a gem. The last four titles feature vocalist Rosetta Crawford in front of a band chosen from several of the previous sessions. Rosetta resurrects three old-time blues masterpieces by Perry Bradford and "Stop It Joe," a little-known novelty by the great James P. Johnson -- who is sitting in at the piano.
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