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Dukes of Dixieland: Timeless

Lovers of Dixieland-we’re talking serious devotees of traditional, New Orleans jazz-can steep themselves in the genre with this four-CD collection containing four hours’ worth of the Dukes, culled from 16 albums originally issued between 1975 and 2006. Various incarnations of the Dukes include some on their home base (the Steamboat Natchez), some on terra firma, some sessions captured live and others in the studio. Not surprisingly, the overall sound is uneven. But then, changes in players and engineers were inevitable during the three decades bridging post-Assunto and pre-Katrina.

Here are a few highlights from that constant evolution. The strong, surging, brassy sound achieved on “Darktown Strutters Ball” (Dukes’ Place, 1975) owes its bite to an expanded front line: leader-cornetist Conrad Jones is joined by trumpeter Mike Vax, while trombonist Bob O’Rourke is shadowed by trombonist Warren Covington. Vax, alone, provides sufficient assertiveness for the ensemble on “That’s a Plenty” and “Mississippi Mud” (Creole Gumbo, 1976), but in the same album clarinetist Otis Bazoon manages to coax a soprano sax timbre on “Petite Fleur.” There’s a heart-rending version of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” on their 1984 release, Digital Dixieland, and most of the credit goes to tubist Danny Rubio. Speed was of the essence for Live at Mahogany Hall (1985), as “Tiger Rag” and “Cherokee” zoom by at tempos that would make many boppers drool. Ironically, the slow, quirky vocal on “Me and My Shadow” by pianist Phamous Lambert stole that show. Again, Rubio’s tuba provided some refreshing gap-filling.

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