James P. Johnson was one of the foremost masters of stride piano, so collectors will be pleased to learn that eight of the 16 tracks on this compilation CD are piano solos. In addition to one of the earliest renditions of his well known "Snowy Morning Blues," there are several forgotten pieces worth hearing, including his buoyant "Riffs," Harry Warren's obscure "Crying for the Carolines" and the constantly shifting "You've Got to be Modernistic." Stride fans will particularly delight in his 1930 stride interpretation of Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love." The band and orchestra recordings are a bit uneven. Johnson's various bands feature the likes of King Oliver, Cootie Williams or Louis Metcalf (trumpets), his protégé Fats Waller on a second piano, and guitarist Teddy Bunn. But Perry Bradford's vocals are unremarkable; neither is lyricist Andy Razaf (who co-composed "Go Harlem" with Johnson) an impressive singer, though he fares somewhat better when scatting. These tracks have been reissued numerous times by different labels, but this 1990 remastered edition on the European-based Halcyon (no relation to the label formerly owned by Marian McPartland) is worth purchasing.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden