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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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SIDNEY BECHET

The Essential Collection

Avid AVC 994

(2CDs)

 

 


CD1
1. Viper Mad - Noble Sissleís Swingsters
2. Blackstick - Noble Sissleís Swingsters
3. When The Sun Sets Down South - Noble Sissleís Swingsters
4. Sweet Patootie - Noble Sissleís Swingsters
5. What A Dream - Sidney Bechet & His Orchestra
6. Hold Tight (I Want Some Sea Food, Mama) - Sidney Bechet & His Orchestra
7. Jungle Drums - Sidney Bechet & His Orchestra
8. Chant In The Night - Sidney Bechet & His Orchestra
9. Blues For Tommy - Port Of Harlem Seven
10. Summertime - Sidney Bechet Quintet
11. Pounding Heart Blues - Port Of Harlem Seven
12. Careless Love - Josh White Trio
13. Milk Cow Blues - Josh White Trio
14. Four Or Five Times - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
15. Sweet Lorraine - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
16. Lazy River - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
17. China Boy - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
18. If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight) - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
19. Thatís-A-Plenty - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
20. Squeeze Me - Bechet-Spanier Big Four
21. Sweet Sue, Just You - Bechet-Spanier Big Four

CD2
1. China Boy (Different Take)
2. Thatís-A-Plenty (Different Take)
3. The Sheik Of Araby - Sidney Bechetís One-Man Band
4. The Blues Of Bechet - Sidney Bechetís One-Man Band
5. Bechet Parades The Blues (St Louis Blues) - Sidney Bechet & His New Orleans Feetwarmers
6. After Youíve Gone - Sidney Bechet & His New Orleans Feetwarmers
7. V-Discs Blues (Bugle Call Rag/Ole Miss Rag) - Sidney Bechet & His New Orleans Feetwarmers
8. Save It, Pretty Mama - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
9. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
10. Memphis Blues - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
11. Shine - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
12. St Jamesí Infirmary - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
13. The Darktown Strutters Ball - Art Hodesí Blue Note Jazzmen
14. I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate - Joe Sullivan Jazz Quartet
15. Panama - Joe Sullivan Jazz Quartet
16. Got It And Gone - Joe Sullivan Jazz Quartet
17. Spreadiní Joy - Sidney Bechet With Bob Wilberís Wildcats
18. I Had It But Itís All Gone Now - Sidney Bechet With Bob Wilberís Wildcats
19. Polka Dot Stomp - Sidney Bechet With Bob Wilberís Wildcats
20. Kansas City Man Blues - Sidney Bechet With Bob Wilberís Wildcats
21. Just One Of Those Things - Sidney Bechet Quartet
22. Love For Sale - Sidney Bechet Quartet
23. Laura - Sidney Bechet Quartet
24. Shake ĎEm Up - Sidney Bechet Quartet

 

In Jazz Journal in 1965, Duke Ellington said: "Of all the musicians Bechet to me was the very epitome of jazz... everything he played in his whole life was completely original". Ellington's appreciation of Bechet is understandable, especially as the Duke himself was known to favour musicians with an individual voice, which is why he hired so many exceptional jazzmen for his orchestra.

Bechet's sound on his main instrument - the soprano saxophone - was unique. Perhaps the player who got closest to his sound was Johnny Hodges, who learned from Bechet and eventually gave up the soprano in favour of the alto sax, perhaps because he didn't want to challenge the master. When later musicians like John Coltrane played the soprano, they sounded entirely different from Bechet. Sidney used a uniquely wide vibrato, which could poignantly express sadness but also be joyfully life-affirming. And his sound on the clarinet was equally his very own. Born in New Orleans in 1897, he carried the free spirit of the city with him throughout his life. He died in 1959, after nearly a decade spent in France, where his special talents were fully recognised.

Bechet's distinct characteristics come through clearly from the 45 generous tracks on this double CD, which was originally issued by the Avid label in 1999 with the title Shake 'Em Up. Personnel details were listed on the sleeve of that disc but, sadly, they are absent from this reissue. The first four tracks date from 1938 and feature Bechet with a small group drawn from Noble Sissle's band, with vocals on a couple of numbers taken by John Kirby's drummer, O'Neill Spencer. It is a pity that the album omits the earlier recordings that Sidney made with Louis Armstrong and Clarence Williams, but these later recordings are good examples of Bechet's mature style.

The next seven tracks are by pick-up groups assembled by Bechet, and they include Summertime (one of the great Bechet performances) and Hold Tight which was later taken up by such singers as Fats Waller and the Andrews Sisters. A pair of tracks with singing guitarist Josh White are followed by all eight of the classic recordings that Sidney made in 1940 with a quartet that he co-led with Muggsy Spanier. The other musicians were guitarist Carmen Maestren and bassist Wellman Braud (Duke Ellington's former bass-player). Bechet and Spanier worked well together, without the former overpowering his colleague, as he sometimes tended to do.

There are two particularly interesting alternate takes of China Boy and That's-A-Plenty. The former displays the two front men going at it hammer-and-tongs, showing off their enviable techniques. In fact Bechet never seems to have had any problems with technique: the music flowed from his soprano sax as readily as a gushing stream. Spanier's trumpet solo in That's-A-Plenty suggests where the songwriters for Walt Disney's Jungle Book may have found the inspiration for I Wanna Be Like You.

The next two tracks - by Sidney Bechet's One-Man Band - are the ground-breaking recordings on which Sidney overdubbed several instruments to sound like a whole band - a remarkable achievement for 1941. After two tracks recorded for wartime V-discs, we get half-a-dozen tracks led by pianist Art Hodes in 1945, with Wild Bill Davison alongside Bechet. The sound quality on these sides is somewhat rough but they convey a lively spirit, and Bechet's clarinet is heard to good effect.

The three numbers by Joe Sullivan's Jazz Quartet sound clearer, with orchestral-style piano on Got It And Gone which reminds me of Earl Hines. The four tracks by Bob Wilber's Wildcats foreshadow Wilber's Soprano Summit, with Wilber following very much in Bechet's footsteps. The album ends with four tracks by a 1947 quartet which gives Sidney plenty of space to exhibit his rapturous style.

This compilation fails to cover important periods of Bechet's work, and it would have been nice if it had included such well-known pieces as Blues in Thirds and Petite Fleur, but (especially at its super-budget price) it makes a worthwhile introduction to a matchless voice in jazz.

Tony Augarde



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