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The Mills Blue Rhythm Band – Harlem Heat

Recorded 1931-36
LIVING ERA CD AJA5634 [76:21]

 

 



1. Blue Rhythm - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
2. Moanin' - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
3. Blue Flame - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
4. Red Devil - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
5. Sugar Blues - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
6. Futuristic Jungleism - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
7. Heebie Jeebies - Hayes, Edgar & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
8. Heat Waves - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
9. Growl - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
10. Rhythm Spasm - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
11. Wild Waves - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
12. White Lightning - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
13. Ol' Yazoo - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
14. Weary Traveller - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
15. Jazz Martini - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
16. Love's Serenade - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
17. Harlem After Midnight - Baron Lee & The Mills Blue Rhythm Band
18. Drop Me Off In Harlem - Lucky Millinder & The Mills Blue Rhythm band
19. Dancing Dogs - Lucky Millinder & The Mills Blue Rhythm band
20. African Lullaby - Lucky Millinder & The Mills Blue Rhythm band

Vic Bellerby’s fighting liner notes ascribe part the relative neglect of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band to the number of leaders who fronted the band. In this disc for instance we have Edgar Hayes, Lucky Millinder and Baron Lee (Jimmy Ferguson) though others, such as Eddie Mallory and Dave Nelson, also did the honours.

A bigger problem surely lay in the arrangers. The band rather lacked a corporate identity, a common complaint levelled at it over the years, but one sustained by the evidence. There were stellar arrangers such as Benny Carter but the bulk belonged to Joe Garland and to Hayes himself and individuals such as Tab Smith. Nevertheless the band boasted powerful soloists. Trumpeter Ed Anderson was one and altoist Charlie Holmes another. Underrated trombonist Henry Hicks shows what a powerful stylist he was and is certainly not disgraced in comparison with so superb a member of the later band (under Millinder’s leadership) as J C Higginbotham. In Hayes the band had an arranger and pianist of considerable gifts even if one prone to the occasional extravagance.

These tracks cover the Hayes-Baron Lee-Millinder years of 1931-36. Propelled by the magnificent bass playing of Hayes Alvis the band swings powerfully. Its orientation is often very Ellingtonian in both content and sonority – it’s often written off as a Cotton Club Ellington relief band - with tight sectional discipline and a vigorous approach to the repertoire. The notes actually miss a trick or two. Shortly before the earliest of these sessions the core of the band had toured as Louis Armstrong’s backing band, and had even recorded with him. This accounts for the element of Armstrong worship in the vocals of George Morton, one of the earliest (and as it happens, best) of the many Armstrong impersonators on record.

Though Hayes proves confident in boogie and stride – he was a forward-looking player - he meets his match in the one Fats Waller appearance. Other cross currents include the lucid and imaginatively scored Weary Traveller written by British bandleader and composer Spike Hughes, whose advanced thinking had already reached fruition in his New York recordings with Benny Carter’s band. The later post November 1933 band boasted such huge talents as Red Allen, Higginbotham and Buster Bailey. Allen growls, Higginbotham powers through Barrelhouse and finally the band had a first call clarinettist in the shape of Bailey.

As a bonus lexicographers will also enjoy a rare use on record of the word "bodacious" in the 1935 Red Allen vehicle Ride Red Ride (actually Tiger Rag). This is actually, properly, "bowdacious", a popular enough word in the American South in the nineteenth century, long before Beyoncé took to shaking her booty.

Pugnacious notes from a Mills Blue Rhythm admirer and good transfers add to the desirability of this release.

Jonathan Woolf



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