Various Artists

Jazz and Hot Dance, Vol. 3: Russia 1910-63

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This fascinating Harlequin historical retrospective traces the evolution of jazz and hot dance music in Russia from 1910 to 1963. The marvelously scratchy opening track, an archaic byproduct of the minstrelsy that stylistically predates ragtime, is garnished with the following information: "Orkestr-Stella-Konsert-Rekord: studio orchestra of unidentified instrumentation and personnel; shouts by the ensemble." This audio-archaeological artifact, its title translating as "The Darkie's Dream," was recorded in what during Tsarist times was called Warsaw, Russia. Authentic and imitation Afro-American culture had begun to circulate throughout Eastern Europe during the middle and late 19th century and soon found its way well into Russia as black theater troupes crisscrossed the Eurasian terrain, entertaining the Slavic population with syncopated song and dance. Many cakewalk and ragtime-flavored recordings were made by brass bands and studio orchestras between 1905 and 1917. The Bolshevik Revolution caused nearly all record companies to close, although the Pathe plant was kept running until 1919 in order to make copies of spoken recordings by Lenin and various other revolutionary orators. Dance music record production is believed to have recommenced only in 1929. A handful of semi-hot dance records have survived, which were made during the 1920s by Russians outside of the Soviet Union. A quaint attempt at Percy Wenrich's ragtime shimmy "All Muddled Up" was waxed in Berlin circa 1923-1924 by a violinist named Leon Holzmann under the name Dajos Bela, with a hunky-dory xylophone line that made the group sound a lot like Yerke's Jazarimba Orchestra. Visiting Amsterdam during the spring of 1928, baritone saxophonist Gregoire "Grischa" Nakchounian led his Russian North Star Orchestra through a lightheaded novelty stomp entitled "Sugar Baby." The rest of the tracks on this compilation were recorded in either Leningrad or Moscow, often against considerable odds. During the mid-'20s the Soviet government had allowed visits by North American jazz musicians like Sidney Bechet, Benny Peyton, and Sam Wooding, but this sort of open-mindedness was short-lived. As Josef Stalin gradually transformed Soviet society into a paranoid police state, hardly any Russian jazz records were made during the 1930s. What did materialize was wonderfully cheerful and high-spirited music. Regular jazz standards like "Sweet Sue," "Nobody's Sweetheart," and "Some of These Days" were being recorded in 1938, a year notorious in retrospect for its bloody purges and mass arrests. A small number of brave souls dared to deviate from official cultural policy, as when in 1939 Duke Ellington's "Showboat Shuffle" was recorded as "Over the Waves" by Leonid Utyosov's Muscovite big band. The crowning glory of this collection is a wild, scat-filled version of "St. Louis Blues" recorded in Moscow around 1943 by trumpeter Eddie Rosner & His Orchestra. Periodically during the Cold War, jazz musicians were subjected to renewed oppression. Under Krushchev, restrictions were relaxed to some degree. A fine jam on a Yugoslavian melody bearing the title "When I Go to Bembasha" was recorded in Moscow by the Sem Molodich Ensemble in 1963. "[T]his appears to have been one of the latest 78-rpm records pressed anywhere on a commercial basis," according to the liner notes, which add, "It was still on sale during the winter of 1964/65."