Max Kaminsky

Chicago Style

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The Chicago jazz style looms with a much larger aura on this release than the group actually featured, at least if one judges from the size of typeface used. This label's jazz catalog in general seems related to books such as The Idiot's Guide to Jazz, offering generalized overviews and a chance for the flush '50s hi-fi buff to create an instant jazz collection. Fine performances were captured in the process, however. The name that should actually be in the biggest typeface is Pee Wee Russell. The clarinetist, a fascinating character whose personality alone inspires descriptions such as "mournful physiognomy," technically has one of the best clarinet sounds in jazz, and will also have classical clarinetists tilting their heads in disbelief. His sense of adventure and invention in his playing in such a traditional jazz style puts him a category with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. So the ten tunes featured here are promoted up a few levels in status simply by the fact that he is there. Not to say that this is a mediocre band, either. The leader's trumpet playing has energy, and the directness of his melodic work shows the influence of some of his former bosses, such as Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. The third horn is trombonist Miff Mole, but there's no escaping the fact that his name is better than his playing. This assessment is based on quite genuine appreciation of both, but his name is just so great that if it were considered in trombone terms, he would be Tricky Sam Nanton. Fans of jazz piano will enjoy the work of Joe Sullivan on this album. He has a romping, stomping style that sometimes even approaches Roosevelt Sykes' boogie woogie tundra. The business-like work of the rhythm section is appreciated, nailing the carpet down in exactly the right spot. There's an overall consistency just from the fact that the band sounds good all the time, as if they were a really fun band to play with. And they probably were, as would be just about any group with one member named Pee Wee and another named Miff. The names of the musicians are listed not only on the album jacket but on each side of the label as well. However, no information is provided about who wrote the material. It is a mix of standards and tricky-head arrangements such as "Fidgety Feet" and "Mix Max."

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