"MADE IN FRANCE" may be a surprising label on a cluster of excellent jazz albums, but that's exactly what we have with a new series on Disques Swing, a subsidiary of DRG Records.
In Europe -- France in particular -- black American jazzmen, often victims of racial and cultural prejudice at home between the wars, were welcomed, respected and compensated. These sessions, never before available in America, were recorded between 1929 and 1960 for the world's first all-jazz record company and feature a mix of expatriates and exalted visitors.
"WILLIE LEWIS & HIS ENTERTAINERS" -- (SW8400/1), a specially priced double album, showcases a competent saxophonist and clever bandleader who knew enough to hire the likes of saxophonist-trumpeter-arranger Benny Carter and trumpeter Bill Coleman to pice up the expatriate scene in '30s Paris. The mood is indicated by some of the song titles -- "Swing, Brother, Swing," "Swing Time" and "Swinging for a Swiss Miss." And Carter -- even then a significant, eclectic arranger -- delivers some blistering solos on "All of Me" and "Rhythm Is Our Business."
"BILL COLEMAN" -- (SW8402) highlights the mid-'30s work of a superb, vastly underrated trumpeter who had the misfortune of appearing during that instrument's golden era (i.e. Armstrong, Eldridge, Stewart). Born in Paris, Kentucky, Coleman moved to the other Paris permanently in the '40s. An outstanding melodist whose playing was fluid in all registers, Coleman hooks up here with some of France's great jazzmen, including guitarist Django Reinhardt (an elegant "BC's Blues") and violinist Stephane Grappelli (five cuts, including a lush, languid "After You've Gone").
"COLEMAN HAWKINS & BENNY CARTER" -- (SW8403). Hawkins, the first tenor saxophone colossus, virtually defined that instrument and its use in the ballad form; Carter, best known now as a composer and arranger, was considered one of the great alto saxophonists. Both are in their prime in these mid-'30s sessions, with Hawkins displaying his patented big sound and graceful invention in a "Stardust" duet with Django Reinhardt and a hard-driving "Avalon," and Carter switching to an achingly muted trumpet on "Out of Nowhere."
"LUCKY THOMPSON" --
Another underrated giant, tenor and soprano saxophonist Thompson was clearly in the Hawkins/Ben Webster mold, sounding exquisite on the liquid choruses of such ballads as "Passing Time" and "One Sent Goodbye" and the medley, "Sophisticated Lady/These Foolish Things" in this 1956 recording. He also shows a modernistic bent in his own hard-driving compositions "One Cool Night" and "Nothin' but the Soul." Sidemen for these sessions included pianist Martial Solal, tenor man Guy Lafitte and Emmett Berry, heard on some fine muted trumpet.
"EDDIE SOUTH" -- (SW8505). The violin has had few proponents in jazz, but they have generally been top-notch. One of the finest was South, also one of the first musicians to play authentic jazz on the instrument. These sessions, recorded between 1929 and 1937, feature him in a sly duet with Django Reinhardt ("Eddie's Blues"), a pair of ballad duets with Stephane Grappelli ("Dinah" and "Daphne"), a sprightly three-violin setting of "Lady Be Good" and two takes of the softly swung Bach Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (with Grappelli).