Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti: Raggin' the Scale

Call me crazy, but to my ears (and to get a bit grandiose), this seems like a short-piece jazz answer to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (especially No. 3), taking a holistic impression of the piece. Particularly in the early going, in the basic structure of the ensemble's instruments and their respective roles, in the leading violin lines in relation to the rest, in the flowing, rolling music that seems like an aural stream cascading over smooth rocks down a hill (though in musically ascending and descending manner), it could serve as a jazz version of a Brandenburg Concerto.

In any case, this is marvelous, fun, rousing, rolling, upbeat and up-tempo music. It features typical expressive lead lines from Venuti's violin. But it is very much ensemble jazz, with breaks for violin, banjo, piano and clarinet all adding nice creative lines and further dimensions of texture and tone, with Adrian Rollini's bass sax providing well-timed, deep sonic underpinning and punch. Also, especially when the piano comes to the fore, it has a ragtime feel (with hints of Jelly Roll Morton).

February 04, 2009 · 4 comments


Adrian Rollini: Beatin' The Dog

This track is one of a series of classic recordings of what can best be described as chamber jazz led by Joe Venuti for the OKeh label under the group names Blue Four and Blue Five. The Blue Five sides feature the above instrumentation plus Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax, clarinet and trumpet (!).

Venuti is so well remembered for his legendary practical jokes that it is easy to forget what a great soloist he was at a time when jazz soloing as we know it was still in its relative infancy. His playing swings furiously in the Armstrong manner while incorporating several devices, such as double-stops, that are idiomatic to the violin.

Adrian Rollini remains one of the music's most interesting and enigmatic figures. A childhood piano prodigy and virtuoso xylophonist, he began playing the bass sax without instruction, prior wind-playing experience, or stylistic role models. The bass sax was primarily used as an alternative to tuba or string bass in rhythm sections back then, and Rollini had no predecessors as a bass sax soloist. He was a pioneer as a jazz soloist, period, regardless of instrument, and was acknowledged as an influence by Harry Carney, Coleman Hawkins and Budd Johnson among others. Here he turns in a fiercely swinging solo, displaying a huge cavernous tone and flawless technique. His rhythm section playing was more flexible and contrapuntal than that of most of his contemporaries on any of the bass instruments, making him, in a way, a sort of Scott LaFaro of early jazz. As if all this didn't make Rollini interesting enough, he devoted the latter part of his career mainly to the vibraphone, developing an intricate four-mallet style that preceded Gary Burton by a good 35 years.

Eddie Lang doesn't solo here, but his rhythm work is solid and energetic. Schutt is fine when audible, although his piano sounds like it was placed in an adjoining room with the door closed. All in all, a superb example of hot chamber music.

September 13, 2008 · 0 comments


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