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King Oliver

  • Off the Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings [Off the Record, 2006] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Off the Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings [Off the Record, 2006]
Renowned for the care and skill with which it digitalizes pre-owned, pre-electric, one-mike shellac, this two-CD, 37-track package is worth the time of anyone with a fan's interest in the ongoing Africanization of American pop. The audio is clearer and warmer than on any Oliver I've heard, acoustic or electric, and the repertoire packs plenty of musical charge as well as historical charm, both of which it needs. Not for nothing do David Sager's excellent notes include phraseology like "upon careful listening," "interesting to notice," "contain evidence of," and "a kind of text," because this package is intended for study as well as pleasure. That's fine--the first recordings of both a seminal bandleader starting his decline, King Oliver, and a young man about to change the world, Louis Armstrong, are worth studying. But nobody makes 37 records in a year without substantial fluctuations in quality, and the style here, in which traditional New Orleans ensemble playing is yielding to Armstrong's hyperactive virtuosity, does sound quaint to any but committed jazz buffs. Oliver is more prominent than Armstrong, but most prefer it when the kid comes forward (dig the slide whistle on "Sobbin' Blues"). Over many listens, I was struck by how some tunes never connected--three stabs at the promisingly entitled "Workingman Blues," for instance--while "Mabel's Dream" and the Thomas Dorsey-cowritten "Riverside Blues" always did. In chronological order, my picks, which forgive sloppiness, enjoy hokum, and include two also on Armstrong's fast-disappearing Portrait of the Artist box (I agree with Sager that the hot parts of "Tears" don't make a whole): "Just Gone," "Chimes Blues," "Weather Bird Rag," both "Dipper Mouth Blues," "Froggie Moore," the second "Snake Rag," "Sweet Lovin' Man," "Sobbin' Blues," "Alligator Hop," "Krooked Blues," "London (Cafe) Blues," "New Orleans Stomp," "Buddy's Habit," "I Ain't Gonna Tell Nobody," the first "Riverside Blues," and the second "Mabel's Dream." That's plenty, wouldn't you say? A-