Sidney Bechet / Bunk Johnson

Bunk & Bechet in Boston with Pops Foster

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In 1945, during a residency at Boston's Savoy Café that resulted in a series of radio broadcasts, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet tried his best to form a New Orleans jazz band. Bechet's band originally had Bunk Johnson on trumpet, pianist Ray Parker, bassist Pops Foster, and drummer George Thompson. However, Johnson (who was not that happy about sharing the lead with such a powerful player) made Bechet's life miserable with his erratic playing, and drank himself out of the band within a month. Formerly released on three LPs put out by the Fat Cat label in the early '80s, all of the Johnson-Bechet collaborations have been reissued on three Jazz Crusade CDs (of which this is the third). This CD, subtitled "Jazz Nocturne 3," is drawn from three radio broadcasts and is occasionally a little scratchy; the final two songs have pianist Hank Duncan and drummer Freddie Moore filling in for Parker and Thompson. Bechet is in typically wondrous form throughout, while Johnson is good in spots, weak in others. Although Bechet tries to let Johnson be the lead voice, any time the trumpeter falters, Bechet jumps right in and takes over the melody. This shifting back and forth by the soprano saxophonist (who also plays a few numbers on clarinet) between the melody and the harmony (along with Johnson's erratic playing) leads to constant conflicts; sometimes both horns briefly state the melody, sometimes neither do. The battle between their different approaches (Bechet is hyper and forceful while Johnson is laid-back) is intriguing, but it is obvious why this situation could not last for long. Bechet sometimes plays as if Johnson is not even on-stage, so their performances -- although sometimes a bit dramatic -- do not live up to their potential.

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