The Bechet Legacy: Birch Hall Concerts Live

Soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Bob Wilber formed the Bechet Legacy in the late ’70s. He had studied with Sidney Bechet as a teenager in the ’40s, and it was a fitting time to formally honor his late mentor. On this two-CD set, recorded in England in 1981 and ’82, original Bechet Legacy members Glenn Zottola (trumpet) and Mark Shane (piano) are heard along with Mike Peters (guitar and banjo), Len Skeat (bass) and Butch Miles (drums). Vocalist Pug Horton, Wilber’s wife, is added on two tracks.

It’s hard to imagine how this set could be improved. These were nights of musical ecstasy. The electricity surges in the opening “Oh, Lady Be Good,” followed by “Down in Honky Tonk Town” and, later in disc one, “Dans Le Reu D’Antibes,” plus in disc two a flying “Just One of Those Things.” Then there are the ravishing ballads: “Summertime,” “Daydream,” “I Keep Calling Your Name” and the Horton features, “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” and “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe.” With Zottola playing Louis Armstrong to Wilber’s Bechet, the performances contain telepathic trumpet and soprano (or clarinet) interplay, propulsive background riffing and a strong ensemble commitment from all. Or as Scott Yanow says in his copious and superlative liner notes, “Bechet Legacy was never about the music being merely a string of solos.” Furthermore, the rhythm section is swing defined.

We tend to regard the jazz of Bechet, Armstrong and their musical descendants as essentially happy music, and Wilber and company have surely captured that uplifting feeling throughout this set. Call it hot jazz