There's a lot more to Louis Jordan than "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie." Here is an opportunity to check out the man's very earliest recordings, beginning with a series of rare treats that fill in the blank spots at the beginning of his story. It's worth having the entire disc just for the sake of "I Can't Dance (I Got Ants in My Pants)." This 1934 Clarence Williams record clearly demonstrates where Jordan would soon be heading as a performer, and what would distinguish him for the rest of his career. Jordan's exacting delivery and sense of timing are already evident, and Williams sounds delighted to be able to interact with someone with a distinct knack for humorous bantering. It's a shame they didn't knock off another dozen tunes together! Jordan's work with Chick Webb is represented here by three vocals from 1937. He sings very sweetly on "Gee But You're Swell" and "It's Swell of You," sounding so sugary that a lot of folks probably wouldn't even recognize him. "Rusty Hinge" is a bit livelier, and Jordan puts a tiny bit of cayenne in his honeyed vocal as the band swings out. Chick Webb's orchestra helped to define the big-band sound of the '30s, and "Hinge" is a good example of that archetypal style. The first records that Jordan made as a leader were cut in December of 1938. His band at that time was named after their regular jam spot, the Elk's Rendezvous Club, located at 484 Lenox Avenue in beautiful Harlem, U.S.A. It seems as though having recorded with Webb for Decca must have enabled Jordan to continue working for that label as a leader in his own right. Rodney Sturgis sings three pleasant tunes in a warm, smooth voice -- "So Good" is the catchiest -- then Jordan takes over as vocalist. "Honey in the Bee Ball" is much lighter fare than the punchy stuff Jordan would later become famous for. A very silly "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" has ridiculous falsetto vocals from both Jordan and the band. But then things start to coalesce. Did you ever wonder who put the "Tympany" in the Tympany Five? Well, here's the answer. On the session of March 29, 1939, Walter Martin augmented his regular drum kit with a kettledrum. The instrumental "Flat Face" has a whole lot of ascending and descending runs on the tympanum, and the instrument is marginally audible throughout the rest of the material on this disc. Even when you think it isn't there, Martin uses it like an enormous tom-tom to add ballast to the band. The pedal drum with variable pitch would gradually disappear but the band was to be called the Tympany Five for years to come. Ballsy tenor man Lemuel Fowler was eventually replaced by the equally tough Stafford "Pazuzza" Simon. Both of these saxophonists made good use of their lower registers. Courtney Williams plays smudge-pot trumpet and Jordan demonstrates what a kick-ass alto player he was. By 1940 all the ingredients are there, anticipating the well-known hit records this little band would soon be churning out in rapid succession.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf