Relatively few of stride piano master Willie "The Lion" Smith's LPs have been reissued on CD. This is the first volume of a two-record set recorded in Paris by the pianist, featuring eight duets with drummer Wallace Bishop and six solos. Smith is at the top of his game throughout both sessions, running through his well-known "Echoes of Spring" and the romping "Here Comes the Band," while his theme song, "Relaxin'," is heard in its entirety with an elaborate introduction. He responds to Duke Ellington's "Portrait of the Lion" with his own "Portrait of the Duke," during which he sings along and talks in a happy-go-lucky manner. The remaining tracks are from a solo session at the end of the year, including once popular standards like "Dardanella," excellent interpretations of two of James P. Johnson's most popular compositions ("Charleston" and "Carolina Shout"), and several more originals by Smith. This record will be extremely difficult to find, but it is well worth acquiring for fans of stride.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden