Alix Combelle


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Anybody who's listened to Django Reinhardt records from the late 1930s has probably heard the saxophone of Alix Combelle, but few seem to know him by name. Featured in front of the 1935 Hot Club of France Quintet, this fellow demonstrates why he was such a sensation in Europe. During "Crazy Rhythm" he rapidly alternates between gutsy tenor sax and gritty clarinet, switching back and forth without missing a beat. Leading his own band two years later, Combelle has a pair of accomplished American musicians sitting in. Bill Coleman scats and blows his horn beautifully during his own "Hangover Blues." Bassist Wilson Myers might be best remembered for the records he made with Sidney Bechet. "Avalon" boils over with a rigorous vitality typical of the late-'30s Parisian swing scene. The tenor sax is warm and feisty. Comparison with Bud Freeman seems inevitable. Two sides by Combelle's Hot Four are largely driven by Joseph Reinhardt's rhythm guitar and the powerfully plucked bass of Louis Vola. Paring his band down to a trio, Alix presents two original compositions in the company of pianist Ray Stokes and Django's trustworthy percussionist Pierre Fouad, who sounds a lot like George Wettling on this date. From his solo on "Don't Get Tired," it is evident that Stokes had been listening to Fats Waller, but with the exception of Joseph Goebbels, who hadn't? Combelle certainly had. In fact, he swiped "Honeysuckle Rose" and called it "Morning Feeling." Django's "Daphne" sounds great inflated into a stomp for 11 players. The Hot Club Swing Stars also tackle a Bob Crosby dance tune and the Kansas City stomp "Every Tub," during which Louis Richardet meticulously copies the already-famous Basie piano style. Basie's influence was stronger than ever on February 20, 1940 as Alix Combelle's Swing Band seized upon "Jumpin' at the Woodside." This track is notable for a particularly expressive guitar solo by Django Reinhardt, who receives the customary solo spotlight throughout this session. The drummer proves to be jazz critic and promoter Charles Delaunay, masquerading under the name of H.P.Chadel. That's probably him making verbal comments during the stimulating "Weekend Stomp." A relaxed blues with the ironic title "Nerves and Fever" is followed by "Fast, Slow, Medium Tempo," a sort of mini-concerto for big band by Philippe Brun. Two more Basie covers bring us to the session of October 21, 1940. Monsieur Combelle was now standing at an historical crossroads, as he continued to make jazz records during the German occupation, an activity specifically regarded as subversive. Jazz, with its many Jewish and Afro-American influences, was considered racially impure as proscribed by the Nuremberg Laws, and therefore all jazz performance, recording or even listening was declared subversive. Which makes these little swing records all the more enjoyable.

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