King Oliver


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We'd like to introduce the last 11 sides that Louis Armstrong made with Joe Oliver's Jazz Band. After listening through three or four of these, you'll have a pretty good idea why this group generated so much excitement in its heyday. Already the ensemble has begun to morph. Papa Charlie Jackson's bass saxophone adds an extra level of funk to "Buddy's Habit," a thrilling stomp gone slightly weird when Louis takes an entire chorus using a slippery "swanee whistle." Jackson played a worthy tuba but his bass sax was all prostate and peritoneum. This was a hot band and these are among the best records they ever managed to conjure. Two cornets harmonize in striking tandem during the breaks. Honore Dutrey's trombone is the perfect counterweight for Johnny Dodds' clarinet. We're experiencing authentic collective improvisation, eight people sharing one microphone. Each of these numbers will charm you if you give the music a chance. Go ahead. Spend more than a half-hour with this amazing band. Suddenly the chapter ends and we've entered a completely different phase of Oliver's life. The group has dissolved after a dispute over pay. Louis lingered longer than the rest but by December of 1924 he's off plowing his own turf. A full year has passed since the band's final session as a unit. King Oliver is heard in duet performance with Jelly Roll Morton, working up a gutsy "King Porter Stomp" and a "Tom Cat" which soon reveals itself as Morton's "Winin' Boy." Now we're wading into the year 1926. Oliver has put his name in front of a band, which is essentially Luis Russell & His Burning Eight. Suddenly there are a lot more reed players than have ever been heard on any of King Oliver's records. There's Albert Nicholas, Barney Bigard and an alto player from Detroit named Billy Paige. He wrote the arrangements for "Too Bad" and "Snag It." Vocals are by the venerably funky Richard M. Jones, the soulful Teddy Peters, the salty Georgia Taylor and the chronically blue Irene Scruggs. Albert Nicholas plays a mean soprano sax on "Home Town Blues." "Deep Henderson" kicks and shakes. "Jackass Blues" is a masterpiece of distorted reality. Gone is the precision of the Creole Jazz Band. The Dixie Syncopators blow hard and swing loose. "Sugar Foot Stomp" is a screamer. Conventional criticism is full of complaints about this band. Why compare it with the smaller, more disciplined ensembles of 1923? These big bumbling bands of 1926 are about feeling good. The records don't exist to authenticate some expert's theories of refined excellence. If Barney Bigard wants to slap his tongue against the reed and Stump Evans tries his luck with a soprano saxophone, well, good for them. It's all about having a good time. And this is good time music.

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