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Sidney Bechet: Volume 10 - 1940 (Masters of Jazz MJCD 100)

I have a terrible confession to make. My first - and, still best - loves in jazz are all herein. The Bechet-Spanier Big Four records are all here...and, nothing I’ve listened to since - not even the avant garde in all of its seductive shapes, or the veritable keys to history - can dissuade me from believing that this remains the very best jazz album I’ve ever heard.

Bechet, for a start, comes first. No question. He carved out the solo role in jazz, years before Armstrong. And, having investigated, I know I damn-well lucked out, amazingly, in that my introduction to jazz at real length was via this set - I found it on an s/h Swaggie lp - albeit we not only get the quartet’s full ten tracks here, but also Bechet’s 1940 set w/Armstrong & Orchestra...all w/the inimitable John R.T. Davis’s remastering.

But, it’s the quartet that always cleans my clock. Drummerless, elegant in their acoustic bass/guitar framing - the top duo similarly matched/poised in their interplay - one of those miraculous sessions where all balance eventually seems effortless, merely the bouncing-point whence we take off... Both Bechet & Spanier play w/time, in their own ways, as do our rhythm section, and yet the thing I feel elevates this above the rest is that - on top of all of these other virtues - Sidney Bechet really applies his encyclopaedic tones in by far the most archetonic way in his long & impossibly distinguished career. By the way, though, what about the totally elegant & impassioned way Spanier introduces things for Sidney most times, pulling back to a tasty support role when suitable...only to come back - in one of three voices - and turn things round & always be masterful in the clinches, freeing/feeding Bechet in the very best way possible...

And Sidney obliges. The famed woody/fiddle tone gets unleashed, as does our reckless piper from Pan Unbound, the rockin’ mechanism, that eternally stunning understudy & the keening stylistic Master...the whole orchestra is here, in fact, all here...and, used in the most integrated fashion ever...

And, I swear, this album also remains unsurpassed for understanding exactly how group improvisation around an agreed song can work - or, maybe equal top w/Alex Chilton’s “Like Flies on Sherbet”, at least...polyphony & heterophony, to be sure.

Or...just try Bechet’s opening/first solo on the Armstrong/Bechet cuts - he certainly sets the bar high, doesn’t he? Armstrong has to basically rebuild the track in order to take it back. Comes in beautifully the next, but he was challenged, to be sure. And where else’ll you hear the one who invented jazz singing backed by the one who invented the modern solo role in jazz, eh? Too much showboating, at points, to be sure, which is why my heart hearks back to the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. One of the absolutely great quartets on record... No question.

John Henry Calvinist