WISH YOU WERE in Dixie, or way down yonder in New Orleans? The Potomac River Jazz Society hosts its annual picnic at Blob's Park in Jessup on Saturday, and it's always a great opportunity to hear traditional jazz bands from around the area. Meanwhile, a lot of the music is finally arriving on CD. Here's a sampler:
JAZZ CLASSICS IN DIGITAL STEREO VOL. 1 --
"New Orleans" (Mobile Fidelity BBC CD 588). Robert Parker, an Australian audio engineer and record collector, spent 30 years developing a technique to extract stereo sound from 78 RPM recordings. The results are impressive, offering both clarity and remarkable separation, though one suspects the true purist won't rush to discard the real thing. Of the three anthology albums, "New Orleans" is perhaps the most typical, with a fair sampling of classic recordings ("Weather Bird" by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines) and several obscurities ("Franklin Street Blues" by Louis Dumaine's Jazzola Eight). While the choice of material seems arbitrary at best, hearing Armstrong and King Oliver perform "Sweet Lovin' Man" in a nearly static-free environment is worth the price of purchase alone, and many of the ensemble performances benefit greatly from the crisp delineation of each instrument.
CLASSICS, VOLUME 2 --
"Chicago" (BBC CD 589). Like the other anthologies, this one contains 20 performances and more than its share of entertaining oddities -- Hoagy Carmichael's Collegians to name one. Its artistic merit, however, is just as obvious. Whether you're listening to Benny Goodman at 19, playing in his first trio session, or Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke collaborating on "Singin' the Blues" or Ma Rainey really singing the blues, there is an immediacy about Parker's digital process that makes classic recordings like these all the more compelling and the stature of these musicians all the more understandable.
CLASSICS, VOLUME 3 --
"New York" (BBC CD 590). Jelly Roll Morton, who has the distinction of appearing on all three anthologies, opens this one by conducting the nearly piano-less "Burnin' the Iceberg." But the real honors go to the big bands. Duke Ellington is represented by a lush yet vibrant "East St. Louis Toodle-oo"; Fletcher Henderson lets Armstrong fly on "Sugarfoot Stomp"; and Jimmy Lunceford's band swings with both power and grace on "Stratosphere." There are other gems to be found along the way, including Fats Waller's "The Minor Drag" and the Bessie Smith/J.P. Johnson performance of "Lock and Key."
FATS WALLER --
"Great Original Performances: 1927-1934" (BBC CD 598). Again, you can quibble with the selections -- there are only a few performances here that rank with what Waller later produced, notably "Handful of Keys" and "Alligator Crawl." Still, this is a valuable revealing view of Waller's early years, offering a glimpse of not only his work as a pipe organ soloist but an early example of his exuberant vocal style as well on "Crazy About My Baby." Waller also worked in a variety of interesting contexts prior to his years with his "Rhythm" band, and this collection emphasizes the talents of Ted Lewis, Benny Carter, Don Redman and Eddie Condon, among others.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG --
"Great Performances: 1923-31" (BBC CD 597). Despite some curious omissions, there's no arguing with the title this time around. "Wild Man Blues," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "West End Blues" are indeed landmark recordings, as is "Willie the Weeper," the first of Armstrong's Hot Seven sessions. The ensemble's expanded colors on "Willie" are vividly captured on this CD, just as the sensitive interplay of Armstrong, Hines and drummer Zuttie Singleton is revealed on "Muggles." If some of the other selections (and musicians) pale by comparison, they're nevertheless worth hearing again.
BEST OF DIXIELAND --
(Verve 831 375-2). This album is a testament to the tenacity of Dixielanders, that hardy breed known for weathering (or just plain ignoring) the winds of change. Though there are a lot of pioneers represented here, the recordings are mostly culled from the mid-'50s to the early '60s, when Dixieland was enjoying yet another revival. The songs offer little in the way of surprises -- suffice it to say that Beale Street, Basin Street, Canal Street and St. Louis all have the blues -- but the performances are often vibrantly infectious or at the very least warmly nostalgic. Among the best are those by the marching bands -- Dejan's Original Olympia Brass Band and The Original Tuxedo "Jass" Band -- and by the British revivalists Acker Bilk and Humphrey Lyttelton.