King Oliver and his Dixie Syncopators: Slow and Steady

This sweet, bluesy melody, coming a year after "Farewell Blues," reveals the King Oliver band becoming yet more arranged and less polyphonic, with unison horn choruses beginning and ending the tune. In between emerge three solos, including a sparkly, muted-trumpet turn by Louis Metcalf. He had been recording with Ellington for two years, on such originals as "East St. Louis Toodle-O" and "Black and Tan Fantasy." Oliver admired him and, now that Joe's teeth and gums were failing, began using Metcalf (and others) to assume his lead and/or solo work.

Metcalf does so here and, interestingly, goes for the leader's wah-wah approach—even though with Ellington he had been a bit straighter. On the other hand, how could Metcalf have avoided the approach, when Bubber Miley had been in his face (with Ellington), and Miley had picked up his growling style from Oliver!

The ensembles have an elastic feel here. The trombone/reed section echoes the lead trumpet—just a millisecond behind—as though they're playing the same song, yet a different song. Everybody's got something to say! Yet overall, when compared with Ellington's concurrent recordings, Oliver's sound appears weakening. Away from New Orleans, he was a fish out of water.

March 25, 2009 · 0 comments


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