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Allen Eager: In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee

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I’ve got a soft spot for CDs comprised of old air checks and private tapes from the ’40s and ’50s, probably owing to the fact that some of my earliest listening to bebop came via bootleg Charlie Parker LPs from that era. For someone like me, this album is an irresistible find. Not only does it give us a look at the once popular if now somewhat forgotten tenor saxophonist Allen Eager; it also includes obscure tracks featuring, among others, Parker and Bud Powell. Finally, it gives as a rare chance to hear a pair of near-mythical and ill-fated musicians, baritone saxist Serge Chaloff and pianist Dick Twardzik.

Initially influenced by Lester Young, Eager’s hard swinging, tuneful style readily accommodated bop harmonic and rhythmic innovations. The album opens with several tunes taken from an air check of the “Symphony” Sid Torin radio program from 1953. Eager is in fine, relaxed form on tunes like “This Time the Dream’s on Me” and “Out of Nowhere,” helped along by the loose, live performance vibe. His pianist is Twardzik, a quirky and florid Powell disciple. Twardzik died at a young age, well before he reached creative maturity. Still, his was a fresh voice, and his brief solos here sustain our interest nearly a half century later. Other tracks were made at jam sessions in the apartment of the famous photographer Milton Greene. Of particular interest are the Chaloff tracks, if for no other reason than he wasn’t widely recorded, and the Parker/Powell sides, which give us one more previously unheard (at least by me) sample of their work. Not a major find as jazz archaeology goes, perhaps, but a lot of fun nevertheless.