Jelly Roll Morton

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Player piano roll technology is much more versatile than most people -- even a surprising number of jazz specialists -- seem to realize or want to admit. The quality of the listening experience is determined to some extent by how the roll was originally played, more so by what happened to it during the editing process, and most of all by the way in which it is played back. True piano roll connoisseurs (this may include anyone who loves the old-time music enough to have heard a wide selection of player piano collections) should be able to confront and usually accept each piano roll "project" on its own terms. Legacy's 1999 anthology of 11 Jelly Roll Morton piano rolls originally released during the years 1924-1926 provides a good taste of where piano roll playback engineering was prior to Artis Wodehouse's amazing mid-'90s restoration that used the computerized Yamaha Disklavier and a concert grand piano to generate recordings of unprecedented depth and clarity. The Legacy playbacks are not necessarily "inferior" to Wodehouse's triumphant realizations. They merely represent a different approach to playing back piano rolls and are quite enjoyable in their own way. Admittedly, "King Porter Stomp" was spooled too quickly; lasting only two minutes and 14 seconds, it is robbed of its innate majestic beauty simply because of increased velocity. Then again, a hasty "King Porter" qualifies as a legitimate variation for which someone is bound to have a use. True discernment is developed by wide-ranging listening habits. One might seek out every known Jelly Roll Morton piano roll collection in order to enjoy comparing the different tempi, dynamics, and sonorities. For the utter and absolute apex of piano roll restoration, go directly to Wodehouse's Elektra/Nonesuch album Jelly Roll Morton: The Piano Rolls.

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