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Stringing The Blues; their 52 finest, 1926-33

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4386 [79:37 + 78:13]



CD 1 (1926-1929)

1. Black And Blue Bottom

2. Stringing The Blues

3. Bugle Call Rag

4. Eddie’s Twister

5. Just The Same

6. Doin’ Things

7. Goin’ Places

8. For No Reason At All In C

9. I’m Somebody’s Somebody Now

10. Kickin’ The Cat

11. Beatin’ The Dog

12. Cheese And Crackers

13. A Mug Of Ale

14. Wringin’ And Twistin’

15. Perfect

16. Penn Beach Blues

17. Fo ur String Joe

18. Dinah

19. The Wild Dog

20. The Man From The South

21. Wild Cat

22. Church Street Sobbin’ Blues

23. Two-Tone Stomp

24. In The Bottle Blues

25. Jet Black Blues

26. A Handful Of Riffs

27. Bullfrog Moan

CD 2 (1929-1933)

1. Freeze And Melt

2. Walkin’ The Dog

3. Runnin’ Ragged

4. Apple Blossoms

5. Put And Take

6. Really Blue

7. I’ve Found A New Baby

8. Little Girl (With Harold Arlen)

9. I’ll Never Be The Same (Little Buttercup)

10. Oh, Peter, You’re So Nice

11. To To Blues

12. Beale Street Blues

13. After You’ve Gone

14. Farewell Blues

15. Someday, Sweetheart

16. Pickin’ My Way

17. Some Of These Days

18. Raggin’ The Scale

19. Hey, Young Fella!

20. Jigsaw Puzzle Blues

21. Pink Elephants

22. Sweet Lorraine

23. Doin’ The Uptown Lowdown

24. The Jazz Me Blues

25. In De Ruff

There’s seldom been a shortage of Venuti-Lang compilations. When CBS issued an LP twofer back in 70s – also called, as is the release under review, Stringing the Blues – they included 32 tracks. The greater capacity of CD means 52 have been included by Retrospective. Another approach is a more chronologically inclusive one that includes alternative takes, an idea pursued by, for example, JSP where you can find both the A and C takes of Put and Take and alternative takes of Doin’ Things and Wild Cat.

There are no alternative takes in Retrospective’s handy compilation. Their first duo recording is rightfully here, Black and Blue Bottom made in September 1926, and thenceforth the succession of permutations of the pool of New York white players is given its head via the bands of Red Nichols and this Five Pennies. Venuti’s Blue Four, Lang’s own Orchestra, and the Venuti-Lang Blue Five as are other one-off meetings, such as those featuring Lang with variously Clarence Williams, Lonnie Johnson, and King Oliver.

There are no surprise inclusions here, just a steady succession of great, largely chamber-scaled classic recording packed into a very brief time frame as Lang (1902-1933), like his friend and frequent band mate Bix Beiderbecke, died at a tragically early age. The approach in their duo performances was established early with Lang providing the necessary subtle rhythm and Venuti spinning a melody line predicated om his classical training but opening out with jazz breaks. Spry and ebullient, Venuti was the jester in the pack, but he played beautifully; try the famous brace of Doin’ Things and Goin’ Places made with Arthur Schutt’s supportive piano accompaniment to hear the stylistic variety that could be generated.

Naturally those famous Beiderbecke-Trumbauer-Lang trio sides are here and there’s a souvenir of the Lang-Venuti background contribution to a recording by the adorable Annette Hanshaw (Retrospective has already devoted a splendid release to this great singer). This twofer also indirectly but inevitably pays tribute to some of the great musicians who contributed to this form of chamber jazz – towering figures such as Adrian Rollini and fine though lesser-known players such as clarinettist and sax player Don Murray and a strong presence in this twofer, pianist Frank Signorelli. Both are in Venuti and Lang’s little band that recorded a rare outright Blues, Penn Beach Blues and that featured a fabulous ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ intro in Four String Joe. The rapport that Lang established with the versatile Lonnie Johnson can be gauged on that exceptional coupling of A Handful of Riffs and Bullfrog Moan and Johnson must have rejoiced to have so eloquent a partner, having had to accompany so many rhythmically errant Blues singers on record. Jet Black Blues has always caused discographic confusion. For a long time, the cornet player was believed to have been King Oliver possibly influenced by the fact that Oliver did play on the earlier recording of In the Bottle Blues. But latest research suggest that he was, in fact, Tommy Dorsey, something of a multi-instrumentalist.

In late 1929 Venuti and his Blue Four – which means Lang, Frank Trumbauer and Lennie Hayton – recorded Runnin’ Ragged on which Trumbauer’s foray on the bassoon marked an example of extending the vocabulary of these small sessions. Jimmy Dorsey was always an asset on sessions like these, his fluency on the clarinet as well as the saxophone family ensuring plenty of contrast in arrangements - lend an ear to Spencer Williams’s then relatively new but now fast swinging standardI’ve Found a New Baby. Harold Arlen can be heard singing Little Girl, Vic Berton is encountered playing the drums – very badly – on Oh Peter, You’re So Nice, all of which leads to two of the greatest sessions Venuti and Lang ever recorded, the October 1931 recordings with an all-star band made up of Charlie and Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman in the front line and the February 1933 sessions, made shortly before Lang’s death, where a small band plays some big music full of colour, instrumental doubling and real virtuosity. One feels the temperature soar when Lang and Venuti take over. A great duet with Lang and Carl Kress shows how adaptable Lang was. The last tracks are a sad reminder of Lang’s death as they’re played by Venuti and his Blue Six soon after the guitarist’s death.

If you only have a few scattered examples of the Venuti-Lang discography you need more. This finely selected twofer has fine notes and good sound and will be much to your liking.

Jonathan Woolf

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