King Oliver

King Oliver & His Orchestra (1929-1930), Vol. 2

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Cornetist King Oliver deserves much more than his usual status in jazz histories as merely the bandleader under whom Louis Armstrong first became a star. It's true that Oliver is simply not in Armstrong's league as a soloist or a bandleader -- which is like saying that Gerry & the Pacemakers weren't as good as the Beatles, a statement that's undeniably true but still an unfair comparison -- but the 23 tracks compiled here (masters and alternate takes alike) are still a darn sight better than most of the early jazz that's been preserved, and they're not even his prime stuff. (Earlier recordings made in the early '20s, before health problems and passing musical trends weakened both his playing and his standing in the jazz community, are stellar, some of the finest prewar jazz ever recorded.) Hearing the fleet syncopations of Oliver's smallish band makes it clear how much Armstrong learned from his mentor, and even oddball novelty tunes like the peculiar "Call of the Freaks" and the trend-surfing slack-key guitar tune "Everybody Does It in Hawaii" feature some good-to-great playing. The best tracks, like a loose, bluesy take on "What's the Use of Living Without Love," are sublime.

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