In the 1920s, there was a vaudevillian style of clarinet playing utilized by some of the reed specialists. Starting with Ted Lewis at the end of the previous decade, these musicians were highly expressive, often very erratic, and emphasized emotional sounds over musicianship. Some were better than others (Lewis was particularly weak), but no one was in the same class as Wilton Crawley, who could make his clarinet laugh, squawk and practically talk, often to hilarious effect. This 1996 CD from Jazz Focus has 11 selections featuring Crawley with such luminaries as trumpeter Red Allen, altoist Charlie Holmes, guitarist Teddy Bunn and pianist Jelly Roll Morton. Two numbers without Morton ("Snake Hip Dance" and "She's Driving Me Wild") had rarely been reissued previously, while "Big Time Woman" and "I'm Her Papa, She's My Papa" (the latter heard in two versions) are classics of their kind. The second half of this CD has 12 numbers that serve as a sampling of the 1929-30 output of clarinetist/altoist Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. Although not quite in Crawley's league, Fess was also suitably crazy; he had a hot band, and his alto solos in particular were quite colorful and nutty. Although strictly for selective tastes, this music is quite enjoyable for listeners with a strong sense of humor.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow