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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