New Orleans Jazz Albums Convey Vitality of Traditional Sound Recordings Spanning Four Decades Feature Greats Such as Louis Armstrong, George Lewis, and King Oliver

By Norman Weinstein, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1997 | Go to article overview
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New Orleans Jazz Albums Convey Vitality of Traditional Sound Recordings Spanning Four Decades Feature Greats Such as Louis Armstrong, George Lewis, and King Oliver


Norman Weinstein, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Call it "Dixieland" or "New Orleans Jazz," traditional Southern jazz maintains its popularity among jazz fans of all ages by conveying a joie de vivre, a high-spirited energy carried by small, brassy bands. As any traveler to New Orleans will convey, the music loses much of its vitality when translated into compact disc. So it is a rare treat to find three discs, all on the budget-priced Tradition label, that do convey something of the soul of traditional jazz.

Big Dixie is an ideal compilation for anyone unfamiliar with the New Orleans sound beyond its formalization by trumpeter Louis Armstrong. The collection juxtaposes early jazz recordings in the 1920s by Armstrong and his first employer and band leader, King Oliver, with examples of the style revitalized in the '40s by Muggsy Spanier and Jack Teagarden.

The music from several decades shares a strong stylistic common ground. Dominated by brass-playing lead melodies, and rhythmically flavored by heavy bass-drum beats, solos are concise. The differences between the '20s and the '50s are immediately evident on a casual listening to "Big Dixie." Spanier and Teagarden smooth the rough edges of King Oliver's art. The raw, sometimes wildly unrefined trumpet blowing and sometimes imprecise rhythm section playing become refined and polished over the decades. Perhaps this is something like the stylization of creole cooking, but following that comparison, a savory experience is worth savoring in any blend. There was only one Louis Armstrong, and High Society captures many of his finest early recordings, both with King Oliver as well as with his own bands.

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