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



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JIMMIE LUNCEFORD

Strictly Lunceford

Proper PROPERBOX 125

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, even among jazz fans, Jimmie Lunceford may be little more than a name - a bandleader who had hits with such records as Rhythm is our Business and Organ Grinder's Swing. Because of this neglect, it is useful to have this four-CD boxed set to give us a fair idea of Lunceford's work.

Nearly every write-up about the Lunceford orchestra uses the words "well-drilled" and "polished". Certainly the band's most notable feature was the precision of its ensembles. The section writing by arrangers like Sy Oliver and Gerald Wilson was delivered with impeccable discipline by the musicians. This precision, though impressive, could become mechanistic. You might say that Jimmie Lunceford's band was a well-oiled machine, but this implies a certain soullessness. Another deadening effect was the band's tendency to play in a two-beat style which failed to swing as much as the relaxed rhythm section of Count Basie - or, indeed, the bands of white contemporaries like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Coquette is typical in plodding along with virtually no swing in it. There's nothing coquettish about this rather joyless performance.

This stodginess might have been countered by Lunceford's eminent soloists, who at various times included altoist Willie Smith, tenorist Joe Thomas, trumpeter Sy Oliver and trombonist Trummy Young. But the soloists were seldom allowed to shine, because the ensembles were given more prominence than the solos. In 1942, Jimmie Lunceford even fired six members of his band for being "prima donnas", which suggests that he was wary of individualism.

The Lunceford band was noted not only for its precision but also for its showmanship, but this quality doesn't transfer onto recorded discs, so we have to judge the band by what we can hear. This boxed set covers the band's career fairly comprehensively - from 1927 (when they were called the Chickasaw Syncopators) to 1946, the year before Lunceford died. The first two tracks are fairly primitive but In Dat Mornin' is accomplished enough to remind you of a slow Ellington number like East St Louis Toodle-Oo.

By the fifth track, the storming Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass, that famed precision is already very evident, with each section displaying estimable togetherness in a complex arrangement, especially in the cliff-hanging ending. There are also good, if short, solos from Willie Smith and Joe Thomas, probably the two strongest soloists in the band. The next track, however, is "sweet" rather than "hot", with lush saxophones and bland brass. Here and on many later tracks, the orchestra sounds more like a dance band or show band than a jazz group, with too many schmaltzy tunes and crooning vocals. At times it is reminiscent of the often stilted jazz of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra - perhaps not surprisingly, as when Lunceford was a schoolboy in Denver, the town's director of schools music was Paul Whiteman's father!

After listening to all 102 tracks in this compilation, I yearn for the easy swing of Count Basie's band or the individuality of Duke Ellington and his men. Jimmie Lunceford showed the tightness that could be achieved with well-integrated playing (and, by all accounts, he overworked his men as well as underpaying them). But, except for a few tracks, it led to a rather soulless, arid style where personality was squeezed out in favour of discipline.

Tony Augarde

CD 1

1. Chickasaw Stomp

2. Memphis Rag

3. In Dat Mornin'

4. Sweet Rhythm

5. Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass

6. While Love Lasts

7. White Heat

8. Jazznocracy

9. Chillun, Get Up!

10. Leaving Me

11. Swingin' Uptown

12. Breakfast Ball

13. Here Goes (a Fool)

14. Rememeber When

15. Sophisticated Lady

16.Mood Indigo

17. Rose Room

18. Black and Tan Fantasy

19. Stratosphere

20. Nana

21. Miss Otis Regrets

22. Unsophisticated Sue

23. Stardust

24. Dream Of You

25. Stomp It Off

26. Call It Anything

CD2

1. Because You're You

2. Chillun,Get Up!

3. Solitude

4. Rain

5. Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down

6. Jealous

7. Rhythm Is Our Business

8. I'm Walking Through Heaven With You

9. Shake Your Head

10. Sleepy Time Gal

11. Bird Of Paradise

12. Runnin' Wild

13. Four or Five Times

14. Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes

15. Swanee River

16. I'll Take the South

17. Avalon

18. Hittin' the Bottle

19. I'm Nuts About Screwy Music

20. Best Things In Life Are Free

21. The Melody Man

22. Organ Grinder's Swing

23. On the Beach at Bali Bali

24. Muddy Water

25. Harlem Shout

CD3

1. Running a Temperature

2. He Ain't Got Rhythm

3. Slumming On Park Avenue

4. Coquette

5. The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down

6. Hell's Bells

7. For Dancers Only

8. Posin'

9. The First Time I Saw You

10. Pigeon Walk

11. Annie Laurie

12. Frisco Fog

13. Margie

14. The Love Nest

15. Down by the Old Mill Stream

16. My Melancholy Baby

17. Sweet Sue Just You

18. By The River Sainte Marie

19. 'Tain't What You Do

20. Cheatin' On Me

21. Le Jazz Hot

22. Time's A Wastin'

23. Baby Won't You Please Come Home?

24. Lonesome Road

25. What Is This Thing Called Swing?

26. Easter Parade

CD4

1. Ain't She Sweet?

2. Well, All Right Then

3. I Used To Love You

4. Belgium Stomp

5. Wham

6. Uptown Blues

7. Lunceford Special

8. What's Your Story, Morning Glory?

9. I Got It

10. Monotony in Four Flats

11. Blue Prelude

12. Twenty-Four Robbers

13. Battle Axe

14. Chocolate

15. Flamingo

16. Siesta at the Fiesta

17. Hi Spook

18. Yard Dog Mazurka

19. Impromptu

20. Blues in the Night (parts 1 and 2)

21. Strictly Instrumental

22. Knock Me A Kiss

23. Back Door Stuff (parts 1 and 2)

24. The Honeydripper

25. Cement Mixer

 



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