Benny Goodman Sextet (with Charlie Christian): The Sheik Of Araby

This performance by the Benny Goodman Sextet was originally issued as “The Sheik”, as the original melody of “The Sheik Of Araby” is barely referenced by anyone in the group, but the chord sequence is clearly that of the old standard. Nick Fatool starts the proceedings with a tom-tom introduction, there is an original line played by clarinet, guitar and vibes, and then Goodman and Hampton engage in a fascinating duet where each plays the key notes of the original song, but never enough to be an actual reading of the tune. Hampton takes the next solo, and it starts with a phrase out of the key. However, he uses the old trick of repeating the phrase, as if to say “I meant to do that”. He keeps toying with notes outside of the key, but he never completely convinces us that he means it. There’s no doubt about Charlie Christian’s harmonic sense, though, and his brilliant, self-assured solo makes everything before sound hopelessly old-fashioned. Johnny Guarnieri provides a sparkling solo that reflects Count Basie and Basie’s root style of stride. The performance ends of a chorus of 4-bar exchanges between the four soloists, with each player listening intently and commenting on the phrases played by the preceding soloist.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fats Waller: The Sheik Of Araby

Fats Waller led a big band for a short period in the late 30s. Like Ray Charles would do years later, he built the band around his existing small group. Usually, Waller’s arrangements were run-of-the-mill, but “The Sheik Of Araby” was a noteworthy exception. It begins with just Waller and Jones (Wallace might be playing too, but it’s hard to tell from the recording) and the mood is like an after-hours club in Harlem. Then, in an effortless segue, trombonist John Haughton solos on the melody with the saxes providing backup. Waller’s vocal starts out straight, but when he gets to “into your tent, I’ll creep”, he just can’t resist making fun of the song and the rest of the vocal chorus is a burlesque. Herman Autrey is the next soloist, but good luck if you want to focus on the trumpet, as Fats comments throughout, including a series of jokes about riding camels. As Fats exhorts the band on, the full brass section finally appears for the last chorus. Had Waller hired a staff of top-shelf arrangers, his band might have been one of the top draws in the nation. Of course, he did just fine with only his Rhythm.

September 02, 2009 · 0 comments

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Sidney Bechet: The Sheik of Araby

This is Sidney Bechet's historic "one-man band" recording of a popular 1920s Tin Pan Alley tune with the first-ever overdubbing of instruments, all played by Bechet. After hearing from a technical person that it was possible, Sidney decided to give it a whirl. He worked hard for weeks to get the parts down on his various instruments before the session. The result, while interesting as a technical experiment, does not come off particularly well as pure music.

He begins with a cool rhythmic riff on the theme using tenor sax, and follows by successively adding other instruments. The tune is performed in sprightly, fairly engaging fashion. But the primitive overdubbing at times produces a somewhat odd overall sound and problems with balancing: the piano, bass and drums are so faint they seem hardly present at all. And beyond its audio deficiencies, this track proves that, when it comes to jazz, there is no substitute for the stimulating interaction with other musicians.

February 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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