Like Britain's Harlequin record company, the Austrian Document label specializes in the reissuing of material so rare and unusual that most people would never have imagined that it existed in the first place. This unique service to humanity seems even greater when the recordings in question date back to before the 1920s. The Earliest Black String Bands, Vol. 1: 1914-1917 presents 18 precious sides rescued from oblivion and made available to the public with a detailed discography and informative liner notes. The connecting link between Joan Sawyer's Persian Garden Orchestra of New York and the Ciro's Club Coon Orchestra of London was Jamaica-born pianist and bandleader Dan Kildare, a pioneer of syncopated dance music who worked with James Reese Europe and was among the very first black musicians to make phonograph recordings. The instrumentation used by the Persian Garden Orchestra in 1914 (cornet, clarinet, tuba, violin, piano, drums, banjo, and mandolin) lent itself to the one-step, the Brazilian maxixe, and the waltz. The unfortunately named Coon Orchestra employed by Ciro's Club had the comparative advantage of making records in 1916 and 1917, when rapidly evolving styles were paving the way for the postwar jazz explosion of the late '10s and early '20s. Stringed instruments predominate in this ensemble (the discography lists banjo, banjoline, cello, string bass, piano, and drums with occasional vocals and incidental whistling effects) and the material includes novelties, foxtrots, and Hawaiian routines with titles like "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula" and "Oh, How She Could Wacki, Hacki, Wicki, Wacki, Woo." This superb gold mine of unique historic material is packed with antiquated parlor music, some of it positively magical.
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