There are more than a handful of undiluted jazz records that predate King Oliver's sessions of 1923, but few had managed to put it together in a recording studio quite so powerfully or, as it turned out, so very influentially. These primordial artifacts, now digitally remastered and chronologically assembled, form a substantial chunk of the bedrock of early recorded jazz. They're also remarkably liberating if, for just a few minutes, you make yourself into a fly on the wall of the Gennett studios. Note that young Louis Armstrong had to pretty well stand outside of the room so that he wouldn't overpower the rest of the players. Johnny Dodds interacted wonderfully with the brass, weaving wreaths of wooded filigree around the exhortations of Honore Dutrey's deep-voiced trombone. Lil Hardin, when you can hear her, is quite the majestic pianist, especially on "Chimes Blues." Baby Dodds couldn't use a full set of drums, as Gennett's Neolithic microphones couldn't handle anything beyond wood block or muffled snare and a small cymbal. Most previous issues of the 1923 Oliver Gennetts didn't include the OKeh sessions from June of that same year. These help to fill out the rest of the picture. The general recording ambience is less muddled, the clarinet seems to have been given greater opportunities for expressing itself in the lower register, and Lil's piano is more audible. Hardin and Armstrong's collaborative "Where Did You Stay Last Night?" sounds like a clear premonition of what Armstrong's Hot Five would be accomplishing by 1925. For years, jazz critics and historians have whined about the presence of Stump Evans, who blew C-melody saxophone on the session of October 5, 1923. As if being nicknamed "Stump" wasn't demeaning enough, Evans has been posthumously reviled for not sounding like Coleman Hawkins, although in 1923 young Hawk was hardly more facile than Stump, who sounds just fine on "Krooked Blues," slap tongue and all. Everything here bears repeated listening. Savor the wonderment of experiencing most of the best recordings King Oliver managed to make before pyorrhea forced him off the scene. Hearing those two cornets flying around the room together is an essential part of any classic jazz appreciation. A special treat lies within the melodic structure of "Camp Meeting Blues," which is clearly recognizable as the basis for Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call." The inclusion of this and three other Columbia sides makes Classics 650 the ultimate early King Oliver survey, second to none.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf