Professor Visits Harlem. AB Fable ABCD1-018. Blows N' Rhythm. AB Fable ABCD2-019/20.
Eddie South: Dark Angel Album Sets. AB Fable ABCD1-021. (All available through North Country Audio, Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679-3194, www. cadencebuilding.com).
Anthony Barnett has come up with three more marvelous violin-themed CDs to add to his AB Fable library. Each CD has informative liner notes including discographical information and rare photos. The printing is rather small, but that probably won't bother younger eyes. The sound on all three CDs is very good to excellent.
Professor Visits Harlem, sub-titled "Swingin' Till the Girls Come Home," is an anthology of swing string ensembles beginning in the 1930s and ending in the 1950s. Some of the string players' names are quite recognizable including Eddie South, Stephane Grappelli, and Stuff Smith, but there are some obscure artists as well like Eric Siday, Vladimir Selinski (who may be better known to the classical crowd), Harriett Wilson and others.
Things don't really start cooking until "Goofus" by Eddie South and his International Orchestra. South also reappears on "Oh, Lady Be Good" with the manic Michel Warlop and Stephane Grappelli for the classic 1937 Trio De Violons Swing label recording that also features the guitar of Django Reinhardt. A nice surprise is "Swinging the Fiddles" by The Ramblers Quintet (a unit from the famous Ramblers dance orchestra). The bulk of these twenty-eight tracks have a distinct "swing" flavor but the transition from "swing" to "bop" is represented by "Swingin' 'Till The Girls Come Home" by the Harry Lookofsky Strings. Violinist Lookofsky was an early proponent of multitrack recording and applies the technique (for himself and bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford) to this title, which also marks the U.S. arranging debut of Quincy Jones. Other examples of string ensemble bop include "Scherzo-Phrenia" by Russian-born Paul Nero and his Hi-Fiddles and "Blues In the Closet" by bassist Vinnie Burke's String Jazz Quartet, which had as members the modernists Dick Wetmore (violin) and cellist Calo Scott. The CD closes with violinist Stuff Smith introducing a 1950s party riff jam with fellow string players Jimmy Bryant (better known as a guitarist) and Harold Hensley (a country session violinist). It's a fitting closer to a great CD of string ensembles.
Blows N'Rhythm (the title is described in the liner notes as a pun on "Rhythm and Blues") is a fascinating two disc collection of violin players in all kinds of settings from jazz to calypso to early rock as well as other kinds of music. The first disc opens pretty dismally with four titles by a group called the Toppers featuring violinist Joe Giordano. This is lightweight stuff (we would dub it "smooth jazz" today) with an annoying, unswinging accordion player (Joe Spata) and rather corny ensemble vocals. Thank heavens for Stuff Smith, who makes his first appearance with his group that includes trumpeter Jonah Jones and tenor saxophonist George Clarke. The four cuts are all unreleased takes from the Varsity label of material issued by Barnett on an earlier AB Fable CD called Stuff Smith 1937-1942: Complete Tenor Sax Septets (ABCD1-015). I guess that set isn't so complete after all! "Crescendo in Drums" alone blows all of the previous group's bad vibes completely away. Smith couldn't help but swing. This reviewer had never heard of violinist Clarence Henry Black, or The Variety Boys, but their four sides are models of small group swing. There is no violin on "Tack Annie," which was included by the producer for the sake of completion. It's an excellent performance (the tune is not the one recorded by King Oliver in 1926), and the fiddle isn't missed at all. Guitarist Kenneth Henderson is very impressive with his unamplified single-note solos. The violinist Ray Perry is in drummer J.C. Heard's Orchestra, which backs vocalist Ethel Waters on two blues numbers recorded in 1946 ("You Took My Man" and "Honey In a Hurry"). …