This beautifully proportioned sampling of Johnson's late recordings is instrumentally varied and covers a wide range of moods. Four jam tunes from the Blue Note catalog each exceed four minutes in duration, which was a big deal in 1944. There was no stopping a front line composed of Sidney DeParis, Vic Dickenson, and Edmond Hall. Much of the remaining material on this album was recorded by Moses Asch, and issued on LP many years later. Six songs composed by W.C. Handy are sung by his daughter, Katherine Handy, who sounds a bit like Mildred Bailey. Johnson the soloist creates what might be his most intensive improvisations on record: "Blue Moods 1," "Blue Moods 2," and "Blue Moods, Sex," amounting to just a little under 13 minutes of freely inventive piano reflections. A further 12 minutes of solo piano ensues, this time much more programmatically conceived. "Yamekraw," originally put together in 1927, was presented as "A Negro Rhapsody." "Yamecraw," to use the geographically authentic spelling, was the name of the rough-and-tumble waterfront district in Savannah, GA. Here Johnson has carefully painted an entire landscape in sound for posterity. The W.C. Handy songs, together with these nearly 26 minutes of solo piano, existed in a state of phonographic limbo for many years. The people behind the Classics reissue series are to be commended for having restored and presented these rare recordings for public perusal. Now for some finishing touches. Whether you identify them as "the Omer Simeon Trio with James P. Johnson" or as "the Carnival Three," it is entirely possible that Simeon and Johnson, in teaming up with bassist Pops Foster, made four little recordings that might be considered perfect. Perfect? What's perfect? Well, there's perfect symmetry. Simeon wrote an attractive piece of blues with Foster, and another even more haunting blues with Johnson. That makes two immaculate collaborative blues, rendered with collaborative immaculate ease. Balance them out with two lively jams -- piano, bass, and clarinet -- no drums required, no brass need apply. These were three of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived, and on 1944-1945 they are heard expressing ideas and emotions as a unit comprised of individuals. Yet there must be an imperfection somewhere. Look carefully: "Harlem Hotcha" was composed by Johnson, to whom the discography incorrectly attributes "Bandana Days," which of course was a major hit for Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. So the discography contains one minor error (very unusual for this label) but the music, like most of James P. Johnson's work, comes very close to perfection.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf