The Proper Box folks have assembled a massive collection of jazz and swing-related material from the second World War, much of it performed right under the noses of indignant fascists; some of it prepared with the de facto backing or propaganda interests of the occupying parties in mind. All politics aside, the music is a blast -- vital and vibrant as well as more varied than some snobs might suspect. As for the motivations of the players and the forces which oppressed them, listeners should feel free to take some of the commentary with a grain of salt, or a plate of sauerkraut if that seems more appropriate. Inevitably there will be people who will not enjoy listening to Django Reinhardt once they begin to speculate on his relationship with the Gestapo, just as there are listeners who shelve their Jimi Hendrix sides permanently once they read biographical tomes suggesting the great guitarist liked to beat up his girlfriends.
Expatriate Mike Zwerin claims to have experienced something of a nervous breakdown writing his book Swing and the Nazis, the publication of which precedes this box set by decades. It is indeed a heavy subject: whether it is the tale of a Jewish family who were allowed to step off a certain deadly train in trade for some rare Count Basie sides, or the careers of some of the players featured herein. Even the loutish storm troopers had the sense to realize this type of music attracted dissidents; so they would let gigs happen just to keep their eye on whoever showed up. How much some of these groups were involved in these proceedings is often unknown. Perhaps these details are not so important in view of what exists here, now: a fairly complete collection of the characters who were not prevented from swinging by swastikas. This includes not only both brothers Django and Joseph Reinhardt, but the orchestras of Eddie Barclay, Gus Viseur and violinist Svend Asmussen. Of course the context adds an extra tingle to tracks such as the wisely chosen opener "Nachtexpress Nach Warschau," performed by Erhard Krause Und Sein Orchester, but not every performance by a German artist reeks of the death camps. The ensemble directed by Willy Berking features good instrumental soloists taking part in musical novelty features with non-political titles such as "Legato" and "Rhythmus."