Alberta Hunter

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 4 (1927-46)

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The fourth and final volume of Alberta Hunter's early recordings as reissued by Document during the 1990s covers a substantially longer stretch of time than any of the preceding installments, beginning in May 1927 and following her progress through the year 1946. Although she recorded sporadically during these years, she worked with an impressive roster of instrumentalists as her voice gradually deepened, enabling her to deliver the goods with visceral fortitude and earthy candor. This fine disc opens with three duets featuring Thomas "Fats" Waller at the pipe organ, with Hunter singing in a mellifluous contralto. Dazzled by his amazing ability to play real jazz on an instrument usually confined to churches, the singer garnishes Waller's handiwork with spoken asides along the lines of "Plonk that thing, Fats" and "Play it, Mr. Waller Lord," a variant on Jelly Roll Morton's famous composition "Mr. Jelly Lord." A pair of sides cut for Columbia in 1929 have accompaniment by an unidentified piano and guitar duo, and then Document skips an important chapter in this singer's story, presumably because the marvelous and charming pop recordings she made in London during the autumn of 1934 with British dance bandleader Jack Jackson do not fit into the conventionally imposed genre straitjacket of a blues singer with jazzy overtones. In reality, Hunter was an unusually versatile performer who specialized in blues and swing but was just as comfortable and skilled when handling songs by Maceo Pinkard, Mitchell Parish, or Cole Porter. This kind of over-categorization has been applied even more ruthlessly and incongruously to the lives and works of Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday, both of whom sang the blues but mainly specialized in Tin Pan Alley pop songs. In March, 1935, Hunter waxed four titles for the American Record Corporation with Alex Hill at the piano. The next phase of her career is represented here with a series of Decca sides from August 1939, with backing by a tough little jazz ensemble consisting of pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, Duke Ellington's first noteworthy bassist Wellman Braud, trumpeter Charlie Shavers. and clarinetist Buster Bailey, soon to shine together as cardinal members of the John Kirby Sextet. Note the cover of Lady Day's "Fine and Mellow." In June, 1940, Hunter was paired with pianist Eddie Heywood, Jr. for several fine recordings released on Victor's Bluebird subsidiary. "The Love I Have for You" is a stunning example of her ability to work up a love song with disarming intensity. "My Castle's Rockin'" and "Boogie Woogie Swing" are among this singer's most lively and stimulating recorded performances. The feisty "Take Your Big Hands Off" and "He's Got a Punch Like Joe Louis" are strongly steeped examples of Hunter's early maturity. Why Document didn't include the remaining titles from the session that produced these two gems is anybody's guess, for they would have fit onto the disc while rounding out the first half of Alberta Hunter's long and eventful career.

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