Harlem stride piano kingpin Willie "The Lion" Smith was as influential as James P. Johnson, Luckey Roberts, and Fats Waller. Although his earliest experiences as a professional musician predate the First World War, the Lion only recorded as a sideman during the 1920s and didn't get around to presiding over his first studio session until 1935. Released in 1996, Pearl's Topaz Jazz sampler The Lion & the Lamb offers 26 examples from 1935-1944, mostly featuring him as soloist and leader of his little group, which some A&R director at Decca Records christened "His Cubs." He is also heard as a member of Mezz Mezzrow's Swing Band ("Lost" and "Mutiny in the Parlor") and Sidney Bechet's New Orleans Feetwarmers (tracks 21-25). As the Lion's Cubs are represented here with only six selections, they may be explored in greater detail elsewhere. On "Harlem Joys" and "What Can I Do with a Foolish Little Thing Like You?" the Cubs include cornetist Ed Allen, clarinetist Cecil Scott, and washboard percussionist Willie Williams, all drawn from the Clarence Williams pool of talent. The 1937 edition of the Cubs has a frontline of trumpeter Dave Nelson, clarinetist Buster Bailey, and saxophonist Robert Carroll. Recorded in November 1938 The Lion & the Lamb is a piano duet with Joe Bushkin backed by Eddie Condon and Milt Gabler's preferred drummer George Wettling. "Bugle Call Rag" dates from September 1944 and is performed by the Lion's Jazz Band, a skilled team that included trumpeter Max Kaminsky and clarinetist Rod Cless. In comparison with the rest of the Lion's available discography, this particular collection works uncommonly well as an introduction to and a celebration of the man's accomplishments. In that sense The Lion & the Lamb is perfectly in step with similar entries in the Pearl Topaz Jazz catalog.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Mezz Mezzrow