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Various Artists: Swing Trumpet Kings

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This seems like a good serious project: the contents of three LPs made under the leadership of different trumpet players on two CDs. The first, made in 1958 and entitled Harry Edison Swings Buck Clayton and Vice Versa, is by far the best. The two old sectionmates play off one another to fine effect, the laconic Edison and his puckish mute contrasting agreeably with Clayton’s more expansive statements. Then there are excellent solos by Jimmy Forrest, surely one of the most underrated tenors, and piano by the dependable Jimmy Jones with Freddie Green, Joe Benjamin and Charli Persip in attendance. Persip, incidentally, plays vibes on “Critics’ Delight,” one of four Edison originals for which Clayton presumably wrote the sensible sketches.

The second set is disappointing. On LP, it was entitled Red Allen Plays King Oliver and it is a fact some of the numbers were once played by Oliver, but Allen sounds far from his best with an undistinguished, pseudo-Dixieland group in which only Milt Hinton and Buster Bailey are assets. Things perk up a bit when Sammy Price replaces one Bob Hammer at the keyboard for four numbers.

The third set, Swing Goes Dixie, by Roy Eldridge and His Central Plaza Dixielanders, was made in 1956, four years before Allen’s, and is somewhat better, although the program of Dixie warhorses is not really appropriate to the personnel: Benny Morton, Eddie Barefield, Dick Wellstood, Walter Page and Jo Jones. Most of the tempos incline to the frantic, but a slow “Black and Blue” gets a long, committed performance. Besides those of the leader, there are interesting solos by Morton, Barefield and Wellstood. Barefield plays clarinet throughout with surprising dexterity and assurance. Jo Jones seems either unhappy with the context or just plain rebellious, except on an alternative “Royal Garden Blues,” where they all riff north to Kansas City.

All three sets document, in different ways, the predicament of swing era stars in the ’50s, when they found themselves between the devil of bebop and the deep blue sea of Dixieland.