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The Apex of Jazz Clarinet; His 26 finest, 1923-44



1. I Know That You Know
2. Play That Thing
3. Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man
4. Four or Five Times
5. Every Evening I Miss You
6. Apex Blues
7. A Monday Date
8. Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me
9. Oh, Sister, Ain’t That Hot?
10. Sweet Lorraine
11. King Joe
12. It’s Tight Like That
13. Chicago Rhythm
14. I Got a Misery
15. My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll
16. San
17. Delta Bound
18. ’Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
19. The Blues Jumped a Rabbit
20. Sweet Georgia Brown
21. Bump It (Apex Blues)
22. I Know That You Know
23. Japansy
24. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues
25. Clambake in B Flat
26. High Society

Some jazz collectors have often cold-shouldered Jimmie Noone. There’s something about his liquid elegance and facility that seems to irritate them. At the heart of it is this: that Noone was not Johnny Dodds, in the same way that, for the Swing era, Benny Goodman was not Artie Shaw. Cascades of Blues-drenched Doddsian wailing, however, was not Noone’s fach even though the song by which he is best known and which, punningly, lends itself to this disc’s title, is a blues of sorts, namely Apex Blues.

Both Goodman and Noone studied with the same teacher, Franz Schoepp, a classical player who instilled in both men a superb technique. Before that though, Noone had gone a frequent route in New Orleans, to which city he moved in 1910 when he was 15, by studying with Lorenzo Tio Jr. Even Dodds studied under Tio though most of his best pupils were, like Noone, Creoles; Bechet, Bigard, Simeon, Nicholas. The earliest example in this 26-track CD comes from an acoustic session of September 1923 in which Noone joined Ollie Powers’ Harmony Syncopators for a splendid performance of the leader’s Play That Thing and where Noone’s excellent solo is matched and indeed surpassed by one of the ultimate Blues stylists, trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. Note, too, in this band the presence of Eddie Vincent, the trombonist who had played in the pioneering Creole Band – the band that should have made the first jazz record before the ODJB. Noone also recorded with Cookie’s Gingersnaps and Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man has cachet less for Noone and more for an extended solo from the fabled iconoclastic cornet star from New Orleans, Freddie Keppard, whose lead and solos have never squared with his reputation.

The majority of tracks though, inevitably, trace the various iterations of the Apex Club Orchestra from 1928 to 1933. The most famous band was the group with Noone’s frontline partner in melodic crime, the alto player Joe Poston, with whom Noone enacted an interweaving so witty and tight that few – except perhaps Soprano Summit (Wilber and Davern) - have dared to pursue it further. The band was graced with the presence of Earl Hines, who was with Armstrong and Bechet then the greatest improviser and forward-looking soloist in jazz. His modernity is clear but audible too is the sound of Lawson Buford’s lumbering tuba, a strange conjunction of frontline gymnastics, pianistic stylistics and heavy brass backing. All the best sides are here, from Hines’ own A Monday Date, to the saucy implications of Four or Five Times, and Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me, memorable for Bud Scott’s playing and Noone’s solo-building architectural surety. If that’s not enough, enjoy Hines striding for dear life onOh, Sister, Ain’t That Hot and the quiet Noone romanticism of Sweet Lorraine. It’s telling that the more treacly sides are missing from this Retrospective disc, such as Ready for the River and Furthermore. Later in the year the composition of the band had changed, and Hines had left. It was still a formidable aggregation with good arrangements, and Jelly Roll’s erstwhile lead, George Mitchell, turns up for a couple of sides. Vocalist May Alix sings on My Daddy Rocks Me. But by 1930 Poston too had gone and had been replaced by Eddie Pollack, and the rest of the personnel totally overhauled, and some of the stuffing went from the band too.

In the midst of the Swing era Noone kept going on disc with his New Orleans Band which fortunately had a first-class front line of Noone, Guy Kelly – who shows his admirable chops on The Blues Jumped a Rabbit - and the vivacious trombonist Preston Jackson albeit with the less accomplished tenor sax of Francis Whitby alongside. The following year Noone teamed up with Charlie Shavers and Pete Brown and confreres in a kind of emulation of John Kirby’s band and these sophisticated stylists acquit themselves admirably in a more cosmopolitan style than heretofore, albeit they should never have tackled Japansy which encourages witless noodling from all concerned: a terrible vehicle for them. The well-known 1940 Decca of New Orleans Hop Scop Blues is here, where relative Old Timers Natty Dominique and Preston Jackson, once again, were part of a fine team that turned in some righteous blues solos. A very different band, the Capitol Jazzmen, included Jack Teagarden and Billy May in Clambake in B flat. The final track is from CBS’s Orson Welles Radio Almanac show from Los Angeles. It aired a month before Noone’s sudden death (gargantuan food appetites, not booze or women, did for him).

Ray Crick’s notes, with thanks to Digby Fairweather and Vic Bellerby, run through Noone’s biography and playing style very effectively and the remastering is also fine. If you’re new to Noone you may well want to go on to survey discs which have the many surviving alternative takes, not least the Apex Club sides; it’s an experience in technical eloquence and consistency. For all his detractors, Noone was a superbly equipped musician and a blues player whose expression was more fluid than the more aggressively insistent playing of Dodds or a stay-at-home New Orleanian like Willie Joseph. Whatever else, you need at least one Noone survey on your CD racks.

Jonathan Woolf

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