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Various Artists: Le Lion De Paris

My question about this 2-CD album, the third in a series, is “Who buys them?” Some great musicians appear, usually in pretty good form. But the work Black Lion presents us with usually is far from their best or most important; this isn’t a Smithsonian-type collection, even though Sidney Bechet, Bill Coleman, Stephane Grappelli, Bud Powell, Johnny Griffin, Cecil Taylor and The Art Ensemble of Chicago appear. The stuff they perform was cut from 1953-74, after the peak of their influence, except for Taylor and The Art Ensemble. And the featured artists comprise a mixed bag; the album isn’t aimed at traditional or swing or bop or avant garde fans. There’s no new material on it, just previously issued bits and pieces. That rules out the completist collector. Go figure.

Anyway, the collection begins with two tracks by Bechet, one of the first jazzmen to swing. Appearing with him are Vic Dickenson on trombone and promoter George Wein on piano. At the age of at least 56, Bechet still plays with enormous drive.

Then we have four tracks by Bill Coleman, a thoughtful trumpeter with a Buck Clayton-like style. The best of them, “Bill Coleman,” contains a gutty Ben Webster solo.

The next 13 tracks are by five different Grappelli groups, including duos with Earl Hines (the best Grappelli selections), and pianist Alan Clare, a quartet with Roland Hanna and another with Barney Kessel. The violinist consistently turns in infectious but rather lightweight work. After awhile I get tired of his fabled charm.

There are six Powell cuts, solo and with bass and drums. By 1963, when they were recorded, Powell’s playing had been seriously hurt by his substance abuse and mental illness. Technically shaky though his work may be, however, it’s a lot more moving than Grappelli’s, and Bud’s very inventive on “Una Noche Con Francis.”

Griffin leads a group with Kenny Drew on a 12 minute up tempo version of “The Man I Love.” The tenorman displays formidable chops and drive along with his stovepipe tone.

Altoist Jimmy Lyons joins Taylor on “Student Studies,” which features dense, dark collective improvisation.

The Art Ensemble’s “The Ninth Room” is lighter but no less challenging, as Joseph Jarmen, Roscoe Mitchell and Lester solo and play contrapuntally over Malachi Favors’ walking bass lines. It’s a substantive but also humor-filled performance, one of the group’s best.

Originally Published