Sidney Bechet/Muggsy Spanier Big Four: That's A Plenty

The pairing of Sidney Bechet and Muggsy Spanier was the brainchild of Steve Smith, the president of the Hot Record Society. HRS was a conglomeration of record store, record label and publisher, and the original 124 sides they recorded are now treasured collector's items. By the time their co-led band recorded in 1940, Bechet had, like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, returned to the States after an extended stay in Europe. Spanier, meanwhile, had recorded a series of 16 sides with his "Ragtime Band", which despite the name, was quite progressive in its mix of Dixie and swing styles. In a way, the Bechet/Spanier group was a refinement of the Ragtime Band. By leaving out the piano and drums, which seemed to be the clunkiest parts of the Ragtime Band's rhythm section, the group had a streamlined rhythm team of guitar and bass, superbly manned by Carmen Mastren and Wellman Braud. While bassist Braud was from New Orleans, he was well-trained in swing during his tenure with Duke Ellington. Mastren was a superb guitarist who had worked with Spanier before as well as with Tommy Dorsey. The Big Four (as the Bechet/Spanier group was billed) recorded 8 sides in two sessions, and only "China Boy" and "That's A Plenty" could really be considered Dixie standards. On "That's A-Plenty", we hear a fascinating mix of current and old styles with Bechet and Spanier playing traditional Dixie horn roles over the smooth swing style of the rhythm section. Bechet starts off the side on clarinet and takes the first solo with Spanier offering simple counterpoint. Bechet is clearly inspired by the burning tempo and I suspect he would have played longer if not cut off by Spanier and restricted by the length of the recording (and this is on a 4-minute 12-inch 78!). After the interlude, Spanier quickly pops a mute on his horn and blows a fierce chorus. While we're wondering how Spanier managed to set that mute so quickly, Bechet does a quick change of his own and suddenly he's playing soprano sax in the background! Braud walks one before Bechet takes over. While his trademark vibrato is the same on both horns, his rhythmic feel is quite different with a choppy arpeggiated style on clarinet, and a broader, long-lined approach on soprano. As the side comes to a close, Spanier becomes more aggressive and the solo turns into a duet with both hornmen playing contrasting but driving lines.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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Benny Goodman: That's A Plenty

Benny Goodman was 19 years old when he recorded his dazzling solo version of "That's A Plenty". He was far from a newcomer to the recording studio, with a dozen-and-a-half documented trips since the winter of 1926. This recording was one of two clarinet solos recorded in June 1928, and while Goodman made several recordings in the interim, it would be over a year before he recorded under his own name again. Goodman's purposely-shrill high register and the busy rhythm of Mel Stitzel and Bob Conselman bring to mind the "hoochie-coochie" craze of the time. The rhythm seems to impede Goodman's swing and one gets the feeling that Goodman is just dying to burst out of this arrangement and just swing. Even at his young age, Goodman's astounding clarinet technique is evident as he solos effortlessly in every section of his instrument. The edges were still a little rough, but in 1928, Benny Goodman was already a force to be reckoned with.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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New Orleans Rhythm Kings: That's A Plenty

There is some confusion on the authorship of the song "That's A-Plenty". ASCAP lists the composers as above, but they also list a 1914 song written by Lew Pollack (who, we can assume, was not the same person as the drummer Ben Pollack, as Ben was only 11 years old in 1914). Tom Lord lists a 1914 recording of the song by something called "Prince's Band/Orchestra". Since I don't have a copy of that recording handy, I can only guess that it is not the same song as the traditional jazz classic heard in the present recording by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Certainly, the NORK version was the first well-known version of the song. Recorded acoustically for the technologically-challenged Gennett label, the balance favors Leon Ropollo's clarinet, with Paul Mares doing his best to assert the lead with his cornet. George Brunies' trombone isn't too far back, but Mel Stitzel's piano and Ben Pollack's drums are mushed together in the background. Most of the recording is taken up with renditions of the theme, but Mares gets a solo spot about two-thirds of the way through. His rhythmic feel and tone are rather pugnacious, but the solo has exquisite form and contour (especially in light of its recording date--a month before Louis Armstrong's recording debut). The band emphasizes the backbeat throughout and even if their manner is obvious and forced, they knew the general direction that the music would take in later years.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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