Jelly Roll Morton: 1926-1930
Remastered, Box Set
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Braggart, womaniser, sometime drunk, spendthrift......genius.Jelly Roll Morton had a lifestyle that would leave the most hedonistic of modern rock stars breathless. The difference, dare we say it, is that Morton was endowed with an almost limitless musical talent.So when he and his fellow musicians got into the studio they did what they were there for...they made music. No overdubs. No thirty minute star solos. No self-indulgent time-outs.And what a job they did! Seventy years after they were cut, these recordings will still impress you with their freshness and originality. If you're a fan, you'll know all this already.But fan or not, you're in for a revelation. Remastering that borders on the obsessive has released sounds not heard since these important recordings were first made.American musical history pure and simple. Unlike Mr Jelly Lord.
In both sound quality and price, England's JSP Records continues to put the American major labels to shame with their prewar jazz collections. Following superb multidisc releases of seminal recordings by Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt, JSP now offers this Jelly Roll Morton compendium, which includes all his Victor recordings from 1926 to 1930. Thanks to the work of remastering guru John R.T. Davies and a sinfully reasonable price, this five-disc collection far surpasses any U.S. release. The music is exuberant and evocative throughout, as Morton's substantial composing and arranging talents come into clear focus. He was able to maintain the joyous ensemble spirit of New Orleans jazz while continuing the music's evolution toward swing's sophistication. Focusing on Morton's Chicago prime, volume 1 is full of highlights, not just of this set, but of early jazz as a whole. Especially noteworthy is the trio date with the Dodds brothers, from June 1927, that yielded "The Pearls," "Wolverine Blues," and "Mr. Jelly Lord."
Volume 2 follows Morton to New York and features a few forceful piano solos, a strong session with trumpeter Red Allen and unsung clarinet player Albert Nicholas, plus a standout trio date with clarinetist Barney Bigard and drummer Zutty Singleton. Volume 3 is not as consistently brilliant, but offers some gems as well, including cuts with Nicholas and trumpeter Ward Pinkett on board from July 1930. The final two discs contain mostly alternative takes, but unfortunately, the masters of Morton's terrific New York session debut are for some reason buried at the end of disc four's alternates. It is, however, a tiny caveat considering the overall worth of this indispensable box. --Marc Greilsamer
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The other neat thing is that these recordings are so old yet so well preserved. This is a wonderful way to get a peek at life during the roaring 1920s.
That said, the restored recordings on this fantastic five-disc CD set do Jelly and his fellow musicians much justice, making them sound as fresh and crisp today as they did in the mid-to-late 1920s. There are so many great tracks here, it's difficult to discuss all of my favorites. Highlights include: Ward Pinkett's trumpet solo on "Stokin' Away", the wild trombone of Kid Ory and the insane clarinet of Omer Simeon on both takes of "The Chant", Jelly's hot piano playing in general, the proto-modal piece "Jungle Blues", and much more! Highly recommended for any serious fan of jazz, especially with that hot New Orleans/Roaring 20s flavor.