Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet/Martial Solal Quartet Ft Kenny Clarke

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Sidney Bechet, who cut his first records in 1923, was an internationally acclaimed musician during the final decade of his life. A master of clarinet and soprano saxophone, his New Orleans background established him as a primal hero of Dixieland jazz, and almost everything in his later discography reflects that affiliation. When on March 12 and again on June 17, 1957 Bechet cut an album's worth of material with a trio led by Algerian-Parisian pianist Martial Solal, the results were profound, beautiful, and exciting. For the first session, Solal invited bassist Lloyd Thompson and drummer Al Levitt; three months later, the bassist was Pierre Michelot and the drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke, a pioneer of early modern jazz whose first European recordings included an opus from 1948 entitled "Algerian Cynicism." The Bechet-Solal Quartet album, which exists as the result of producer Charles Delaunay's self-described "brainwave" to combine taproot tradition with cutting-edge modernity, is unique among the rest of Bechet's output. Solal's approach was refreshingly creative -- within a couple of years he'd be laying down themes for the soundtrack of Jean Luc Godard's cinematic masterpiece of the French Nouvelle Vague, A Bout de Souffle (known in the U.S. as Breathless). Bechet sounds quite comfortable in this company, and the playlist, which includes "Jeepers Creepers," "All the Things You Are," and "I Only Have Eyes for You" is so different from his usual repertoire that sensitive and impressionable listeners who know his life and work by heart may find themselves deeply moved. This was not Bechet's final session -- about a dozen subsequent dates with French traditionalists end with his final recording in December 1958 -- but it feels a lot like his last testament. His outstanding musicianship is perfectly complemented by the skills of Solal, Clarke, Michelot, and the rest of the young men who were fortunate enough to sit in with the master during the twilight of his long and eventful career.

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