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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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Crotchet
Albert Nicholas – New Orleans Clarinet
New Orleans Shags
Spanish Shawl
Sugar Foot Stomp
Saratoga Shout
Strokin’ Away
Blue Blood Blues
Nothin’ But Rhythm
Toledo Shuffle
Tap-Room Special
I’ve Got A Heart Full Of Rhythm
Ballin’ The Jack
Careless Love
Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Albert’s Blues
Blame It On The Blues
Old Stack O’Lee Blues
Weary Way Blues
Mo Pas Lemme Ca
Bechet’s Creole Blues
Les Oignons
Basin Street Blues
Rose Room
Black and Blue
I’ve Found A New Baby

Albert Nicholas (clarinet) with Richard M Jones and his Three Jazz Wizards, Luis Russell, Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers, Freddy Jenkins and his Harlem Seven, Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra, Baby Dodds’s Trio, Bechet-Nicholas Blue Five, Rex Stewart and his Dixielanders, Adrian Bentzon and his Jazzband, The Dutch Swing College Band
rec. 1925-1954
LIVING ERA CD AJA 5586 [76.58]

 


Albert Nicholas was one of the most liquid and articulate of all New Orleans clarinettists. But it was not always so. One of the pleasures in tracing this chronological, near thirty-year, span of his recordings is in tracking Nicholas’s embryonic talent in his youthful twenties and in following him through increasingly sophisticated company until we reach the elder statesman, far from home, and lionised in Europe.

Though he was a cousin of Wooden Joe Nicholas, Albert was totally unlike the down home blues trumpeter and clarinettist whose scorch still fractures his proud but fragile 1950s sides. Albert, for one thing, left New Orleans and joined the migration north, and that’s where we find him in 1925, in Chicago, in the first sides in this worthy retrospective. He was as old as the new century then but looking backwards. The upper register has the dread hint of the gaspipe and he indulges vogue-ish slap-tonguing much as Coleman Hawkins was still doing on tenor in Fletcher Henderson’s band. In his early King Oliver and Luis Russell days the style strengthens and the tone clarifies. But he did retain more than just a hint of Jimmie Noone about his playing – something he shared with Barney Bigard – and the influence (though polished) could sometimes become rather enervating.

We hear a lot of sidemen colleagues. Underrated trumpeter Ward Pinkett gets good (if erratic) outings and the pianist Joe Turner strides splendidly on Toledo Shuffle - Adrian Rollini in the otherwise all-black band – on drums! There’s an example of his work with Louis Armstrong’s orchestra – a When You’re Smiling paraphrase – but he’s heard to better effect stretching out with Baby Dodds’s band with Art Hodes paying dues to Jelly Roll – whom we actually hear earlier. Nicholas’s blues playing was – even in those sides with Bechet – and pace Vic Bellerby’s liner notes more studied and refined than elemental and to that extent he makes a good foil for his molten, vibrato-laden fellow New Orleanian Bechet. These are well-loved sides but of maybe less renown is the stellar little band with James P Johnson, Danny Barker and Pops Foster who produced a slew of Creole patois numbers.

Finally we have some examples of his long European sojourn, all live, exciting though not over-scrupulous, in the way of these things. The canny selection had to include something of these days and with the other selections it’s been well accomplished. Vic Bellerby’s notes are good but someone’s fallen down over spellings. It was Lorenzo Tio who taught Nicholas not, God help us, Lorenzo Tito. Luis Russell is thus not Louis. It was Tom Anderson’s place in New Orleans not Tim Anderson’s – I can’t imagine a Tim in New Orleans then or now. Rex Stewart would not be happy to see himself as Ray Stewart.

Jonathan Woolf



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