This excellent disc, released to commemorate the centenary of Sidney Bechet's birth, may be the finest available collection of this New Orleans master's early recordings. Spanning 20 years of performances from 1924 to 1943 with various ensembles and instrumental configurations, the set plays like an aural documentary of early 20th century jazz. Here are elements of marching band themes, ragtime, Dixieland, and swing, all under the rubric of New Orleans music, and all distinguished by Bechet's passionate, formidable talents.
Though the early '20s recordings necessarily demonstrate lower sound quality, even here Bechet's wide, vibrato-drenched tone and blazing improvisatory skill on both clarinet and soprano sax come through loud and clear. Regardless of the group he performs with--Clarence Williams' Blue Five, the Red Onion Jazz Babies, Noble Sissie's Swingsters, Tommy Ladnier and Orchestra, and his own New Orleans Feetwarmers--Bechet excels as both soloist and group improviser. Sly blues like "Okey Doke," old school rave-ups such as "I've Found a New Baby" and such classics as "One O'Clock Jump" and "Maple Leaf Rag" (given a red-hot reading with the Feetwarmers) prove why Bechet is now considered one of the true legends of American music.