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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Jazzman

Avid AMSC 940




1. Radio Announcement

2. I Found A New Baby
3. Announcement

4. Sweet Lorraine
5. Announcement

6. Rosetta
7. Announcement

8. The Man I Love
9. Announcement

10. Bugle Call Rag
11. Announcement

12. Lester Leaps In
13. Announcement

14. Body And Soul
15. Tea For Two
16. Announcement

17. Blues
18. It Must Be True
19. How High The Moon
20. Begin The Beguine

1. Dream Dust
2. Fine And Dandy
3. Somebody Loves Me
4. Just You, Just Me
5. I Found A New Baby
6. September In The Rain
7. You Ought To Be In Pictures
8. Moten Swing
9. Willow Weep For Me
10. China Stomp
11. Star Dust
12. Honeysuckle Rose
13. I Canít Believe That Youíre In Love With Me
14. Body And Soul
15. Get Happy
16. Sweets
17. These Foolish Things
18. Embraceable You
19. You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me
20. Blue Skies
21. Begin The Beguine
22. Steel Guitar Rag
23. Guitar Boogie

24. Moten Swing (alternative take)

The title of this double album may come as a surprise to those who only know guitarist Les Paul from the hits he had from the late 1940s, many of them with vocals by Mary Ford. Yet Les Paul had previously been a player of jazz as well as country music, and this collection contains some of his finest jazz performances.

Most of the first CD is occupied by recordings of the first "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concert in July 1944, when promoter Norman Granz assembled a starry line-up of jazz musicians to jam together. Granz had intended to base his rhythm section on the Nat "King" Cole Trio, and its bassist - Johnny Miller - is included on the session but guitarist Oscar Moore was otherwise engaged, so Granz booked Les Paul to play at this pioneering event. The recordings are actually taken from a broadcast for the Armed Forces Radio Service, which accounts for the numerous announcements that precede most tracks.

The opening number, I Found a New Baby, is taken at a hectic tempo and is marred by some tenor-sax screeching from Illinois Jacquet, which may have pleased the audience but deterred the more discriminating. However, Les Paul provides a swinging jazz solo which is jazzy as well as piquant, although it includes some of Les's favourite clichés which fans soon get to know. Nat Cole sings his popular Sweet Lorraine, but Les Paul is only in the background - inserting some punctuations. Bugle Call Rag is played at a frantic speed but Les contributes a vigorous solo alongside muscular solos from Illinois Jacquet and drummer Lee Young (Lester Young's brother). It is followed by Lester Leaps In, written by Lester Young. The outstanding soloist here is Nat "King" Cole, with Les Paul chugging away cheerfully in accompaniment.

Cole and Paul are at their best in the next three numbers. Les's technical mastery of the guitar mingles with his disrespectful humour to make a brilliant solo in Body and Soul, matched by Nat's quote-filled contribution. Both men also shine brightly in Tea for Two but even this is topped by Blues, where Cole and Paul intertwine telepathically, with Cole jokily imitating Paul's phrases. It is one of the great moments in jazz, and worth the price of the whole double album (which is very reasonably priced).

The rest of the first CD and the whole of the second CD put Les Paul in a variety of contexts: mostly with his own trio but also with such fine musicians as Lionel Hampton, Harry Edison and the neglected Herbie Haymer. Somebody Loves Me has him alongside Art Tatum, where Les is comparatively restrained. Two tracks with the Eddie Heywood sextet (notable for dynamic drum solos by Sid Catlett) are followed by four with altoist Willie Smith and his orchestra. Most tracks include solos by Les, substantiating his right to be called a jazzman, although his style may be too gimmicky or repetitive for some tastes.

In Steel Guitar Rag, Les returns to his country roots, bending notes in all directions. This item and Guitar Boogie were recorded in 1947 - the latest tracks on the album. Only one year later, Les Paul laid down Lover as his first multi-tracked recording, which made him really famous and led to the Gibson guitar company taking a real interest in his novel inventions. When his wife, Mary Ford, joined him on vocals, the duo had hit after hit.

Brian Priestley's sleeve-notes observe that les Paul is omitted from the New Grove Encyclopedia of Jazz (although I have noticed many other strange omissions, like George Gershwin, Peggy Lee, the Four Freshmen and Bam Brown). But this double CD establishes firmly that Les Paul IS a jazzman. In fact, at the age of 93, he still plays every week at the Iridium Club on Broadway, despite his arthritic fingers. Les has not only been a pioneer in guitar design, amplification and studio innovations - he is also indisputably a jazz player.

Tony Augarde





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