After a couple of fine sides from 1928, the saga of King Oliver turns another corner, heading into 1929 armed with little more than a Victor recording contract. There are plenty of strong performances here. Charlie Holmes puts his personality on the front line, and Fats Pichon sings "I've Got That Thing" with plenty of mustard as usual. But things are definitely changing. On "I'm Watching the Clock," a relaxed recording made in September of 1928, King Oliver expressed himself beautifully, but his chops were on the wane. By the beginning of 1929, Louis Metcalf is the featured cornet soloist in front of King Oliver's Orchestra, using the mute a lot like Joe had brandished it years earlier. "Call of the Freaks," "The Trumpet's Prayer" and "Freakish Light Blues" are beautiful vignettes. Punch Miller appeared briefly on a date that featured the flashy piano of Cass Simpson. For the remainder of 1929 Oliver's nephew Dave Nelson took on the task of trumpeting and occasionally composing for the band. He even sang for a minute but someone must have begged him to knock it off. Teddy Hill played tenor sax for Oliver's orchestra in 1928 and 1929. He worked in a lot of big bands that couldn't give him enough solo space, which is probably why he eventually formed his own progressive swing band where Dizzy Gillespie would take his first solos on record in 1937. Teddy would go on to create an open environment that was conducive to extended improvisation during the early 1940s. On this CD you get to hear him paying his dues. The best of Oliver's solid components still make for good listening. Clinton Walker, for example, would operate the tuba with energetic precision all the way through to May of 1930. James P. Johnson and Hilton Jefferson showed up. That's serious business! So is Roy Smeck's steel guitar solo on "Everybody Does It in Hawaii," although jazz purists wrinkle their noses and roll their eyes at such stuff. Smeck also plays harmonica on "Frankie and Johnny." The combination of tuba and mouth harp is a remarkable sonic blend, for those who aren't too proud to have a wild adventure in the company of crusty old records like these.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf