For several practical reasons, this could very well be the best Freddie Keppard collection currently available on compact disc. Until someone comes out with an expanded set containing everything even remotely connected with Keppard, this Retrieval edition, unflawed yet arguably not "complete," deserves top recommendation. The art and science of Keppard appreciation has always been filled with challenges. This is because there always seems to be a number of recordings included on which Keppard does not appear or -- even better -- where Keppard's presence has been hotly disputed for generations. The cornerstone reissue predating the rise of digital transfers was a 1979 Smithsonian/CBS LP entitled The Legendary Freddie Keppard -- New Orleans Cornet. That marvelous tribute, covering the years 1924-1926, was garnished with copious liner notes. A 1988 Jazz Treasury LP covering the years 1923-1928 made further material available to collectors. The producers of King Jazz brought out their own version of the chronology in 1992, and a 1998 Jazz Archives edition proved to be a thinly veiled reissue of a 1996 EPM Musique release. These are some of the primary milestones in the study of Freddie Keppard's recorded legacy, and let it be said that the earlier CD editions were marred by serious technical problems. Although grouping together both Keppard's and Louis Armstrong's recordings made with Erskine Tate, the Jazz Archives issue omits three crucial sides by the Jazz Cardinals, which happen to be the only recordings ever actually released under Keppard's name. How they rationalized that excision is anybody's guess. The producers also edited out a magical glockenspiel intro from "Scissor Grinder Joe," and the sound quality is weak enough that some of the subtleties of the performances are lost. The King Jazz edition is ruined by a catastrophic mistake in their discography, as track 23 appears as track 17, causing most of the rest of the printed titles to be out of step with what is actually heard. With screwed-up competition like this, it's easy to recommend Retrieval/Challenge 79017, which appeared in 2000 bolstered with informative and insightful written commentary by Mark Berresford. Like almost every musical historian, Berresford cops attitudes wherever he sees fit, sneering at Elwood Graham's vaudevillian "laughing" cornet solo on "So This Is Venice" and disparaging certain unverified Keppard recordings as residing somewhere outside of the Keppard canon -- apparently, Jasper Taylor's State Street Boys didn't qualify -- while embracing others that are equally unsubstantiated. Even if the enclosed discography says Keppard is absent from Doc Cook's 14 Doctors of Syncopation, Berresford hears him there and says so. The most important contribution that he makes to Keppard studies and jazz literature in general is a reconsideration of Keppard's legendary refusal in 1916 to make what would have been the first jazz recording, not so as to prevent others from "stealing his stuff" but for the excellent reason that "...he was not prepared to play for a test recording without being paid, which was the accepted policy of record companies." Now that is illuminating. Freddie Keppard expected to be paid for his work! Imagine that.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf