Harlem Joys

Willie "The Lion" Smith

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Harlem Joys Review

by Ken Dryden

Stride piano great Willie "The Lion" Smith is undervalued for his many contributions to jazz, likely due to his sporadic recordings after 1950 and the difficulty in obtaining many of his releases. This Affinity compilation collects many small group and solo sessions from the mid-'30s, all well-restored with the CEDAR remastering program. Unfortunately, the packaging is a bit sloppy, as there are typos in some of the song titles and the instrumentation posted for certain tracks doesn't exactly match what is audible. The obvious highlight is "Echoes of Spring," heard in two separate takes, both of which are a bit faster than Smith played them unaccompanied. The soloists include clarinetist Buster Bailey, trumpeter Frankie Newton, altoist Pete Brown, and others, with the ensembles sounding equally inspired. The remaining tracks will be of interest to classic jazz fans, though most of these songs have long since fallen into obscurity, whether originals by the pianist, tunes by other jazz musicians, or pop songs of the day.

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