This installment in the James P. Johnson chronology includes no less than eight sides featuring the clarinet of Rod Cless, who didn't live long enough to make very many recordings. The first four selections are played by Max Kaminsky & His Jazz Band, a staunch Eddie Condon group recording for Commodore Records in June of 1944. Their music is warmly reassuring. Next comes a series of gorgeous piano solos, each one precious and iridescent as lapis lazuli. In the months that followed the sudden death of his close friend and protégé Fats Waller, Johnson created a series of interpretations of songs written by Waller ("Squeeze Me") or forever linked with him ("I'm Gonna Sit Right Down"). Johnson also set down on record a marvelous catalog of his own compositions, eight of which appear on this disc. Some of these melodies date back to before the 1920s, like "Carolina Shout," which was published in 1914. The Rod Cless Quartet, a combination of Cless and Johnson with a gifted trumpeter named Sterling Bose and bassist Pops Foster, made four records that rank among the best that any of these guys ever made it onto. Bose needs his own retrospective! Hardly anybody knows anything about him. Cless was a woodwind ace who showed great promise, and would have enjoyed some measure of success during the continuation of what became known as the Dixieland revival. What a pity he fell off a balcony and never woke up. James P. Johnson, who had only three partial years of creative activity ahead of him, sounds exceptionally fine throughout this collection of essential Harlem jazz.
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