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Earl Hines: Esquire All Stars

The notes don’t explain how the Earl Hines sextet at San Francisco’s Club Hangover became the “Esquire All Stars” in 1954, but they notably include Dicky Wells, who takes typical solos on half the titles. Neither the recording nor a piano that clearly had known better days unfortunately does justice to the leader, who is mostly under-recorded in this collection drawn from four broadcasts. The balance tends to favor drummer Eddie Burns and one of those appalling announcers so common on radio at that time, but considerable amount of enjoyable music nevertheless survives, along with six performances not previously on LP. Gene Redd, an erratic trumpet player, shows surprising power and technique at times and also plays capable vibes on “C Jam Blues.” The following “Low Down Blues” is a satisfying performance with a flavor Wells recaptured in his 1958-59 recordings. New versions of “St. Louis Blues,” “Rosetta,” and “Piano Man” all offer evidence of Hines’s spotaniety and the “unflinching inevitability” Max Harrison refers to in his notes.

The Laserlight set presents a live recording by the group Hines took to Europe in 1968. The music doesn’t do justice to the strong personnel: Money johnson, trumpet; Booty Wood, trombone; Bob Donovan, alto and clarinet; Budd Johnson, tenor and soprano; Bill Pemberton, bass; and Oliver Jackson, drums. Wood does well with plunger on “Minnie H,” but apart from those by the leader, the other solos are undistinguished. The record’s title, in fact, suggests that the main responsibility is the pianist’s. The whole program sounds more like a rehearsal than a public performance, with brief piano solos haphazardly interjected, but this time the piano is well recorded and the audience sounds well pleased.

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