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Bud Freeman: All-Star Swing Session

Here’s an important and wonderful reissue by Coleman Hawkins’ first great tenor sax rival-before Lester Young, that is. In fact, Bud Freeman shares some of Pres’ best virtues: a gift for creating flowing melodies, a deep strain of blues and a special, immensely poised kind of swing, which as a youthful Chicagoan he absorbed from early New Orleans men, especially Louis Armstrong. By Freeman’s 1960 All-Stars (featured on more than half of this CD) he projects one of the most distinctive sounds in jazz: big, muscular, yet tapered and singing, always in his lower register, with an extraordinarily wide and even vibrato. This early-swing stylist accents the strong beats and there’s much rhythmic variety in his phrasing. After trumpeter Shorty Baker solos rather delicately in theme variations and decorations, the hard-swinging Freeman improvises lovely new songs on the changes (“S’posin’,” “Love Me or Leave Me”) or swaggers with rolling phrases that evolve into sustained lines (“Shorty’s Blues,” “But Not for Me”); he turns gruff, with barking phrases, on the minor blues “March On, March On.” This is certainly a major artist at his mid-career best; the other All-Stars are pianist Claude Hopkins, bassist George Duvivier and drummer J.C. Heard.

Four exciting tracks from 1935 make for fascinating contrast. Both the young Freeman and lyrical trumpeter Bunny Berigan are full of fire, with the tenorist blowing high as well as low. Again and again he bursts with melodies behind Berigan’s dancing lines. Interestingly, the solo on “What Is There to Say?” predicts Dick Wilson’s 1936 tenor style. Two songs also offer what are probably Freeman’s only clarinet solos, which are especially revealing for his melodic originality-only his low tone and a few inflections suggest the possible influence of Pee Wee Russell or any other clarinetist. Claude Thornhill’s barrelhouse piano is a world removed from his ethereal 1940s orchestra. The CD also has three pieces from a chaotic 1962 jam session led by bassist Leonard Gaskin. Among the crowd, nobody can handle the busy changes of “Darktown Strutters Ball,” though Freeman comes closest. Two other hasty pieces nicely balance Freeman’s big swing against the liberated lyricism of trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin.

Originally Published