Muggsy Spanier

1944

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Three high-powered Commodore sessions and a V-Disc blowout make this an exceptionally satisfying packet of Chicago-styled traditional jazz. Without a doubt, this music should be rated alongside Muggsy's all-time greatest recordings. Pee Wee Russell, gloriously soulful and inventive, is present throughout. Rock-solid trombonist Miff Mole made it onto two of the three Commodore dates. No matter how hard the band swung, nothing could shake the Mole. Saxophonists Ernie Caceres and Boomie Richmond were variously brought in to augment or replace the trombone. Muggsy demonstrates his full range of wails, growls, and muted shimmies. Some of these tunes run for more than four minutes, which in 1944 meant big beautiful 12" 78-rpm records. The overall mood is positive, spirited, and even optimistic. Caceres accomplished with his baritone what Adrian Rollini had achieved with a bass sax during the mid- to late '20s. A reed horn with a voice that deep has a way of nudging the whole band along with firm but friendly persuasion. Boomie sounded a lot like Bud Freeman, a good role model for a tenor sax operating within this kind of an ensemble. George Wettling pounds his drums with unusual fervor during "Sweet Sue," inciting a perfect riot of joyous jamming. Pee Wee's first chorus on "Memphis Blues" is so gritty and deep it's frightening! Every tune is rendered with passion. That's where all that satisfaction comes from. Comparing these sides with the highly revered 1939 "Ragtime Band" recordings, these seem just a bit more free and genuine, closer to what these guys must have sounded like in person. The V-Discs are each more than four minutes in duration. "Pee Wee Speaks" has Muggsy introducing the clarinetist as "our new vocalist." Russell grumbles the blues, referencing Muggsy's work ethic and tossing in references to butter and lard. As with every other existing example of Pee Wee Russell the Singer, our man sounds weirdly glib and a little bit sloshed. "Pat's Blues" begins with someone, apparently bassist Bob Haggart, whistling a full chorus of the blues through his teeth. It is a perfectly frowsy finale to this invigorating collection of hot records made by Muggsy Spanier at the height of his powers.

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