This latest Mosaic juggernaut-eight discs and a mere 199 cuts-doubles as a bulwark against easy labels, which is how one imagines banjoist/guitarist/ringleader Eddie Condon would have wished it. Teamed with tenorman Bud Freeman, and working with ensembles kitted out with one stud soloist after another, this is jazz via the New Orleans collective approach, then shot through with Chicago-style solo panache and brought to New York as the choicest uptempo amalgam.
The material ranges from 1938 to 1950, and while the sprawling expanse of most Mosaic packages means you’ll usually encounter a duff patch or two, everything is of a piece here. The units are loud and loaded for bear, the dominant fettle being all-out fun. Condon was an underrated soloist, but it’s his rhythm work that impresses throughout, right from the opening “Love Is Just Around the Corner,” a showpiece for clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, with the bulk of the beat coming from Condon’s vigorous comping. One gets the sense that it was his enthusiasm that fired these assorted workouts, as if his extramusical contributions were just as important as the audible ones. This set also provides an opportunity to re-evaluate Freeman, who boasts an enormous sound and smooth tone. His playing can be very Chu Berry-like, robust yet even, as on a September 1939 rendition of “As Long as I Live,” which features an impeccable sound balance for this vintage. (Hard, in fact, to fathom it dating before WWII, but there it is.)
Come the spring of the next year it was experimentation time, with the Modernistic conceit of attempting to capture a jam session of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” over four 12-inch 78s. There’s a decent amount of clutter-we’re talking an orgy of solos here-but a Joe Marsala alto spot plays beautifully against an organ backdrop, and the bewitchingly consistent Russell pulls the slack parts together.
Condon was the chief proselytizer for what became known as Nicksieland Jazz, so named for Nick’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, where he and his cohorts cut loose, and as such he was a master blender of talent. A mid-November 1940 date features pianist Fats Waller, someone whose presence, like that of Art Tatum’s, was so commanding that he could be hard to incorporate into a group structure. No problem, though, with the Condon gang. “Georgia Grind” is a perfect blues setting for Waller who, not surprisingly, delights in trading flourishes with Russell.
And then there is the January 1946 date with Bing Crosby joining the Condon ranks. “After You’ve Gone” finds Freeman’s saxophone acting as foil for Crosby’s vocal, the latter posing its own horn-like qualities as the former easily dips into singsong mode. Come July of that year, we have Gene Schroeder’s piano providing its own make of Condon-esque rhythm on “Some Sunny Day,” which also features a ramped-up, tricky drum part from Dave Tough. Even better, kit-wise, is the Christmastime 1943 romper “Oh, Katharina,” with the painfully under-recorded Big Sid Catlett having one of his finest moments, flashing the full monty of his considerable technique and chops. Give the drummer some, give everyone some, with this lot.