For all the appearances Slam Stewart made on other people's records, there weren't a whole lot of recordings issued under his name. What you get in this package are five different bands, each operating with one foot in the swing tradition and the other firmly planted on the new ground that critics and journalists called "be-bop." The Savoy session of January 30, 1945, is precious for the presence of Erroll Garner. "Play Fiddle Play" closely resembles "Bassology," recorded a few years earlier with Slim Gaillard. The resemblance comes during the last minute or so, as Stewart gradually works his way into the highest notes obtainable on the instrument until he has it sounding like a viola. "Laff Slam Slam" grows out of a simple set of variations on "Volga Boat Men." A quintet recording for the Continental label in May and July of 1945 featured Johnny Guarnieri and Red Norvo. The pianist sings "Honeysuckle Rose" in close imitation of Fats Waller, saying "Yaz!" so much that it almost becomes irritating. This mimetic act was probably entertaining at cocktail parties, but like most Waller impersonations, it probably won't feel right to anyone who really knows and loves Fats Waller. Still and all, Guarnieri was one hell of a piano player. Leonard Feather composed quite a number of the tunes heard here. His "Mood to Be Stewed" is a wistful walk, while "The Voice of the Turtle" moves boldly over modern bop terrain, something with which Norvo was quite comfortable at the time. "On the Upside Looking Down" is remarkably cool and magnetically charged. "A Bell for Norvo" is quite an excursion -- they really cook! "Haw Haw" sounds like it was based on "Paper Moon," "Dozin'" is an ethereal reverie, and "The One That Got Away" is fast and frisky, with Guarnieri demonstrating his ability to produce first-rate stride piano. Garner returned for a trio session with Harold "Doc" West in September of 1945, creating four sides that fit in nicely with everything else being recorded for the tiny Manor record label (see Dizzy Gillespie 1945, Classics 888). "Blue, Brown and Beige" feels a little bit like "Satin Doll" and the eccentric "Three Blind Micesky" is pure delight. The last four tracks on this wonderful collection were recorded in April of 1946 for the Musicraft label, with young Billy Taylor at the piano. The bop element is stronger than ever. "Doctor Foo" seems only circumstantially related to Coleman Hawkins' "Meet Doctor Foo," although a closer comparison of the two compositions is probably in order. "Coppin' Out" shares many modern characteristics with Dizzy Gillespie's "Be Bop" and with certain ideas then being developed by Bud Powell. "Oh Me, Oh My, Oh Gosh," with a vocal by Stewart and the band, is a rare example of Stewart taking a vocal without simultaneously bowing the bass. It comes as a pleasant surprise and a tasteful conclusion to this most enjoyable portrait of Leroy Elliott "Slam" Stewart.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf