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Gambit Weekly Sensational Sets

By Geraldine Wyckoff

JUNE 8, 1998:  New Orleans jazz recorded by the Atlantic label from the mid-50s to the early '60s has been re-released in a beautiful boxed set called The Atlantic New Orleans Jazz Sessions (Mosaic). The set includes either four compact discs (as reviewed here) or six LPs, plus a booklet complete with detailed liner notes by Bruce Raeburn of the Hogan Jazz Archive, black-and-white photographs and discographies.

Some of New Orleans' finest players are captured in this treasure chest of musical history. Most of the recordings took place at Preservation Hall, a familiar spot to these musicians. The Young Tuxedo Brass Band, which shares the first disc with the Eureka Brass Band, is the exception, having been recorded outdoors. The tunes on the Young Tuxedo's segment also are the only songs not heard in the order they were recorded. The goal was to present the music of the Young Tuxedo Brass Band as it might be heard playing a jazz funeral -- beginning with slow dirges and stepping up the rhythms after the body was "let loose."

Considering the difficulties of recording in the open air, the overall sound quality is quite remarkable, though the indoor sessions naturally fare better. Drummer Paul Barbarin begins most tunes with a typical roll off on material both familiar ("Just a Closer Walk With Thee") and more obscure ("Eternal Piece").

The most striking aspect of the band's sound is leader John Casimir's high-pitched E-Flat clarinet, an instrument very seldom heard today. It's interesting to note that the Young Tuxedo included in its repertoire a song titled "It Feels So Good," which now is considered an R&B classic (made famous by Shirley and Lee).

Having the Young Tuxedo and the Eureka brass bands on the same disc makes it possible to flip back and forth and compare the groups' interpretations of the same songs, like "Panama" or "Joe Avery's Blues." Recorded at Preservation Hall in 1962, the Eureka thrives on some great ensemble work, with clarinetist Willie Humphrey "doodling" above the polyphony of sound on the oh-so-fresh "Take Your Burden to the Lord."

The second disc is dedicated to the great Barbarin, who led two different bands during separate sessions. The first was recorded in the studio in New York in 1955, the second at Preservation Hall in 1962. The disc opens with "Sing On," which could have been titled "Swing On." Willie Humphrey and banjoist Danny Barker both provide some fine solos on this number, with visitor Milt Hinton sitting in on bass.


The Atlantic New Orleans Jazz Sessions feature songs from the Young Tuxedo Brass Band (shown here in 1958).
Barker also is heard as one of the few vocalists in the compilation on "Eh Las Bas." The second half of the Barbarin disc opens with "Slide Frog Slide," which has trombonist Walden "Frog" Joseph complying with the request. Once again, hearing these sessions back to back makes it easy to check out individual techniques -- Barker's banjo, for instance, compared to that of Emmanuel Sayles, who is heard in the later combo.

The musical couple Billie & De De Pierce and two different bands led by clarinetist George Lewis bring a variety of styles to the third disc. Pianist Billie Pierce adds some bluesy flavor in her vocals, giving an edge to songs like "Shake It and Break It." Drummer Abbey "Chinee" Foster's wild cymbal work certainly gives the group a different flavor.

The many moods and talents of Lewis are very evident here as he plays within the Pierce group and leads his own bands. With his quartet, he displays an elegant, sophisticated take on classics like "Winin' Boy Blues." The '62 session with Lewis' sextet naturally involves more typical ensemble work.

Punch Miller's Bunch, also featuring Lewis' clarinet, and Jim Robinson's New Orleans Band share the fourth disc, which includes three previously unreleased selections, Miller's "Casey Jones" and "Girl of My Dreams" and Robinson's "Sister Kate." Trumpeter Miller steps to the microphone on a fine rendition of "Sugar Blues," one of eight cuts heard from this combo. The excellent trombone of Robinson on popular numbers like "Five Foot Two" is perfectly matched with the sweet tone of clarinetist Louis Cottrell.

There's a lot to hear and learn in The Atlantic New Orleans Jazz Sessions. It is a serious collection of joyful music. Each listen reveals another element, a new phrase, another solo. The music within not only is a link to our past and the foundation of the present and future, but timeless in its pleasure.


The limited edition set (only 5,000 copies were released) is available only by mail order from Mosaic Records. Call (203) 327-7111, fax (203) 323-3526, or send email to mosrec@ix.netcom.com.


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