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Various Artists: Hot Jazz On Blue Note

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Starting 50 years ago, with its first recordings of Thelonious Monk, Blue Note has represented the cutting edge of modern jazz, with a list of its major artists alone encompassing most of the giants of the genre. This is truly a stunning record of achievement, but what is forgotten by so many lovers of early hard bop and its subsequent spin-offs and alternative styles is that Blue Note started out as a dedicated organ for the dissemination of traditional jazz as played by its masters. The combined effort of German migr s Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, by the end of the 1940s Blue Note had built one of the best catalogs of pure hot jazz ever recorded by a single company in so brief a period of time. With infallible taste, Lion recorded almost every great jazzman available in the New York environs, most particularly, with an emphasis on the New Orleans and Chicago-associated players then working at such clubs as Nick’s, Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, the Pied Piper and Cafe Society, as well as on the radio series, “This Is Jazz.”

Unlike any other compilation of classic Blue Note material, save the complete, limited edition collections on Mosaic, Hot Jazz offers the best overall view of Blue Note’s activities and interests prior to their concentration on more contemporary styles. Serving, then, as an introduction to at least three generations of Blue Note collectors and jazz fans in general, this collation of long unheard classics constitutes a release of signal importance, especially at a time when this music is in serious danger of being overlooked and then forgotten in favor of ever increasing truckloads of more current sounds.

Comprising 72 tracks, this four-disc boxed set departs from the customary practice of Mosaic and other collectors’ labels by eschewing both the single-artist approach and the chronological ordering of tracks. Instead, producers Mike Cuscuna and Bruce Talbot, acting in compliance with compiler/annotator Dan Morgenstern, have arranged the selections in a seemingly random fashion, but one that incorporates not only variety in tempo but also a loose adherence to genre and composer. The emphasis throughout is on improvised blues and blues songs, medium-paced and bright stomps and, of course, the standard traditional repertoire that had been built up around the tunes written and/or recorded by King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.

By far, the major contributors to the collection are Sidney Bechet, with 22 tracks as leader and three more in collaboration with Bunk Johnson and Albert Nicholas, and Art Hodes, with 22 as leader and many others as a featured sideman. Other session leaders are Edmond Hall and James P. Johnson, with five tracks each, Sidney De Paris with six, George Lewis with four and Baby Dodds with three. The first disc opens with one track each by Meade Lux Lewis and the Josh White Trio, with Bechet on clarinet, while the fourth disc closes, quite appropriately, with Bechet’s magnificent “Blue Horizon.” In between these emotionally moving but deceptively simple performances, however, are scores of truly hot gems featuring such incendiary swingers as Wild Bill Davison, Max Kaminsky, Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Archey, Sandy Williams, Albert Nicholas, Omer Simeon, Rod Cless, “Bujie” Centobie, Joe Sullivan, Cliff Jackson, Don Kirkpatrick, Charlie Christian, Pops Foster, Wellman Braud, Walter Page, Sid Catlett, and, of course, all of the group leaders. Morgenstern’s copious 95-page booklet is, as expected, a minor masterpiece.