Commodore was the perfect label for small group swing, and a natural choice for Eddie Condon at a time when major labels were often more interested in maintaining cash flow by sticking with trendier categories of musical entertainment like big name vocalists or imitation hep cat stuff for teenagers. At Commodore, the fact that Joe Sullivan was playing piano actually meant something. Milt Gabler really believed in Max Kaminsky. Anyone curious about Maxie's trumpet style should study these recordings as well as the many sides he made with Art Hodes for Blue Note. Here in Commodore territory, Kaminsky mingles nicely with Pee Wee Russell and Brad Gowans. It would be nice to be able to hear where Condon's instincts would have taken him next, but a recording ban made a big hole in the chronology. Condon's next date as a leader was for Bob Thiele's very hip Signature label on November 20, 1943. Present at the piano was Fats Waller's idol James P. Johnson, who steered the band through a lazy rendition of Waller's "Squeeze Me." Having honored the 'Harlem stride piano' component, the band dove into "That's a Plenty" as if saluting their drummer who just happened to be Tony Spargo (nee Sbarbaro) of Original Dixieland Jazz Band fame. This disc is crawling with historical heroes. On December 2, 1943 trombonist Benny Morton sat in for a couple of hot numbers and two marvelous extended sides: "Basin Street Blues" emerged as a languid meditation, while the ancient "Oh, Katherina!" received its hottest interpretation since Sam Wooding & His Chocolate Dandies performed it for the citizens of Berlin back in 1925. What makes this 1943 version kick is the drumming of Big Sid Catlett. The remaining sides from December 1943 are nothing less than charming. Some of these titles first appeared during the early 1920s, which is actually good incentive for historical research if you're into that sort of thing. The other strategy is simply to enjoy the old melodies as played by these wonderfully integrated ensembles. Even just grooving on Pee Wee Russell's individuality -- his eccentricity -- that might be as far as anybody needs to go with these fine old recordings. Maybe just listen to the music for Pee Wee's sake. Listen to that clarinet. Maybe that'll fix you right up.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Eddie Condon & His Band