Sidney Bechet: Young Sidney Bechet (Timeless)
There's never been another clarinet/soprano sax player like Bechet…Nor
has their been another jazz soloist - on any instrument - who emerges
so revolutionary & fully formed on their earliest sides. That this is
hard to grasp today is simply a function of how well the lessons of
the early 1920s were learnt. But it only takes one quick listen to
this beautifully remastered collection - in parallel w/ the other jazz
recorded before 1926, to realise what a genius this man already was.
And, unlike virtually all other great jazz of the period, you can
actually hear this stuff…
Because, sadly, most of the best very early jazz was recorded in
Chicago...w/less than ideal equipment, poor balances & the rest. In
contrast, while the best studios by far were in New York, musicians
there lagged behind their peers in this period - particularly in the
matter of timing. Conversely, Bechet's early sides were carefully cut
by Okeh in NY - and it shows. But don't get the idea that this music
is elevated solely by technical considerations. Because, before
Armstrong's apotheosis in 1927-8, Bechet was clearly not only the
leader officially - as the key sides they cut together in 1924-5 &
contained herein amply demonstrate - but also technically &
emotionally, to boot.
And their first recorded meeting, the genuinely awesome “Texas Moaner
Blues”, deserves to be heard by every jazz fan. Aside from two brief
flashy breaks [one each, naturally] this might be, as James Lincoln
Collier argues, the closest thing we'll ever hear to the way early
jazz bands played blues for the whores in black Storyville, at the
turn of the century...albeit, played at a much more demanding level.
Naturally, of course, both the young Turks pulled out all the stops.
With neither pulling back - except in volume - during each other's
solos, this is a masterpiece of crosstalk, of dragging that thing
around in different ways. And, whilst Louis is masterful, Sidney is
the veritable master - tearing both sweet & raw timbres out in every
cutting phrase and, at one point, birthing one honk you'd swear'd
issued forth from a baritone sax.
On a clarinet, mind you.
That a jazz recording made in 1924 still has the capacity to amaze
that this one does offers little for those who - strangely - still
profess belief in "progression" in the arts. And, mercifully, it also
offers to the rest of us its own particularistic beauty. A beauty we
will not see the like of again…
John Henry Calvinist