Various Artists

San Francisco Jazz 1930-1932: The Flexo Recordings

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In 1992, the Harlequin historical reissue label released a 23-track collection of rare classic jazz and hot dance records made in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area during the lean years 1930-1932. Largely due to the lack of participation by major labels, Californian jazz recordings from this period are relatively rare and have always received less recognition than the music that came together in cities east of the Mississippi. The recordings gathered onto this disc (which is an expanded edition of an LP bearing the same title and released by Echo records in Berkeley) are all the more uncommon for having originally appeared on Flexo unbreakable records, a product of the Pacific Coast Record Corporation and the invention of Jessie J. Warner, a recording engineer from Kansas City, MO. In addition to being unusually resilient, Flexo records were almost wickedly variable in their every physical aspect. A Flexo record might measure anywhere from 3 to 16 inches in diameter. Its grooves might be set to play from the outside in or from the inside out, at either 78 or 33 & 1/3 revolutions per minute (sometimes two different speeds on flip sides of the same record) and the disc might be colored black, red, yellow, blue, green, orange, salmon, or pink. Flexo advertising copy makes ridiculously exaggerated claims not unlike those that would eventually circulate with the introduction of the compact disc during the early '80s: "The new Flexo Records have been put to the most trying and extraordinary tests. They have been thrown in the streets, run over by automobiles and trucks for hours at a time; they have been laid out under the burning rays of a hot summer sun without materially affecting their rendition qualities. They will wear almost indefinitely and are a permanent and lasting record." What is verifiable is the fact that the Flexos reproduced here generally seem to document better, jazzier, and in some cases more exciting music than much of what was being waxed by the competition, i.e. Durium's Hit of the Week flexi-disc series. Flexo's roster of talent (as reissued by Harlequin) includes trombonist George "Drux" Druck's (aka Drux) Sweet's Ballroom Orchestra; the Flexo Recording Orchestra under the leadership of either saxophonist Lew Reynolds or drummer Goodwyn Goldie, and pianist Jack Coakley's Tait's at the Beach Orchestra. Track 23 makes available to the world a fabulous 33 & 1/3 rpm blank label. unissued test pressing containing in its grooves a solid nine-and-a-half minute medley of hot jazz favorites (beginning with a swell version of Luis Russell and Paul Barbarin's "Call of the Freaks") performed by an unknown band that probably included several members of Faye Elliot's New Yorkers. The only positively identified individual is drummer Paul Slobody, whose surname is the Slovakian word for "freedom."

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