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



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SIDNEY BECHET

Petite Fleur

Le Chant du Monde 274 2407.09

 

 

CD1

1. Sweetie Dear

2. I’ve Found a New Baby

3. Maple Leaf Rag

4. Shag

5. Dear Old Southland

6. Blackstick

7. When the Sun Sets Down South

8. What a Dream

9. Chant in the Night

10. Really the Blues

11. When You and I Were Young, Maggie

12. High Society

13. Indian Summer

14. One O’clock Jump

15. Four or Five Times

16. Lazy River

17. China Boy

18. If I Could Be with You

19. That’s a Plenty

20. Old Man Blues

21. Wild Man Blues

22. Blues in Thirds

23. Stompy Jones

24. Muskrat Ramble

CD2

1. Egyptian Fantasy

2. Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home

3. Slippin’ and Slidin’

4 The Sheik of Araby

5. Swing Parade

6. When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

7. I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of This Jelly Roll

8. I’m Coming Virginia

9. Georgia Cabin

10. Strange Fruit

11. Twelfth Street Rag

12. What is This Thing Called Love?

13. V-disc Blues

14. Blue Horizon

15. Weary Blues

16. Out of the Gallion

17. Blame It on the Blues

18. Old Stack O’Lee Blues

19. Spreadin’ Joy

20. Polka Dot Stomp

21. Buddy Bolden Stomp

22. My Woman’s Blues

23. Just One of Those Things

24. Love for Sale

25. Shake ‘em Up

CD3

1. Sister Kate

2. Tiger Rag

3. When the Saints Go Marching In

4. September Song

5. Careless Love

6. Tailgate Ramble

7. Joshua Fit de battle o’ Jericho

8. Honeysuckle Rose

9. Les Oignons

10. Mon Homme

11. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams

12. Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone

13. After You’ve Gone

14. Going Way Down Home

15. Lastic

16. Promenade des Champs-Elysées

17. En Attendant le Jour

18. Si Tu Vois Ma Mère

19. Dans les Rues d’Antibes

20. Petite Fleur

21. My Melancholy Baby

22. Black Bottom Stomp

23. The Man I Love

24. Exactly Like You

25. All of Me

26. It Don’t Mean a Thing

 

“Sidney Bechet was one of the truly great originals”. Thus spake Duke Ellington, for whom Bechet played for a while in 1924. This triple album substantiates Ellington’s belief in Bechet’s originality. Sidney had a unique sound on the soprano saxophone, as well as being one of the first jazz musicians really to swing. Every track here illustrates Bechet’s brilliant technique – on clarinet as well as soprano saxophone. His fluency while improvising was sometimes startling. Just listen to the ease with which he conquers Alphonse Picou’s tongue-twisting solo on High Society. His playing could be very free: stepping across bar-lines and altering notes using his wide vibrato or changes in pitch. And he had a unique tone which has not been matched by most subsequent exponents of the soprano sax.

All these qualities are evident in a track like I’ve Found a New Baby, one of four tracks recorded by the New Orleans Feetwarmers in 1932, the year when this compilation starts. The album omits earlier recordings like those he made with Clarence Williams in the early 1920s. And I can’t find any of the records that Bechet made with Louis Armstrong. At any rate, Sidney is well supported on these 1932 cuts and on many later tracks by Tommy Ladnier, who proves himself an ideal lead trumpeter. Dear Old Southland begins with Bechet playing a poetic cadenza, while When the Sun Sets Down South shows his poignant side.

This collection includes many recordings made by orchestras led by Bechet, and also numbers where he plays with the bands of other people, such as Noble Sissle, Jelly Roll Morton and Claude Luter. Exciting as many of the bigger-band numbers can be – mostly at fast tempos – I find myself drawn to the recordings made by Bechet with smaller groups. Outstanding among these is The Sheik of Araby, where Sidney accompanied himself using no fewer than six instruments – an early example of multi-tracking. He delivers Strange Fruit movingly, leading a trio completed by pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith and guitarist Everett Barksdale. Another memorable trio recording was Blues in Thirds, with Earl Hines and Baby Dodds. And it is good to hear him in a sextet (tracks 8, 9, 11 and 12 on the second CD) with Charlie Shavers, one of the most underrated musicians in jazz. He is especially rhapsodic in What is This Thing Called Love?

The last CD is dominated by recordings in France, where Bechet spent the last years of his life. It was a fruitful period, including two compositions by Sidney which widened his appeal. Petite Fleur became a hit – if not for Bechet then for Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. And Les Oignons (“The Onions”) was taken up by innumerable trad bands.

Sidney was never backward in coming forward, and I suspect he chose to play the soprano sax because it could soar over the other instruments. But this assisted his lyricism and the rich legato lines he created, letting the music flow. He may have been a difficult man to work with but he was a ground-breaking musician who set a very high standard.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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