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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MUGGSY SPANIER

Relaxin' at the Touro;
His 46 Finest 1924-57

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4254

 

 

Big Butter and Egg Man

Someday, Sweetheart

Eccentric

That Da-Da Strain

At the Jazz Band Ball

I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

Dippermouth Blues

Livery Stable Blues

Riverboat Shuffle

Relaxin' at the Touro

At Sundown

Bluin' the Blues

The Lonesome Road

Dinah

Black and Blue

Mandy, Make up Your Mind

Four or Five Times

Sweet Lorraine

Muggsy Spanier

Lazy River

China Boy

If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight

That's a Plenty

Squeeze Me

Sweet Sue, Just You

Mobile Blues

There'll Be Some Changes Made

Lewisada Blues

Muggsy Spanier

Royal Garden Blues

My Wild Irish Rose

Down to Steamboat Tennessee

Sugar, That Sugar Baby of Mine

Little David, Play on Your Harp

Hesitating Blues

Two O'clock Jump

Weary Blues

Snag It!

Oh, Lady, Be Good!

September in the Rain

Muggsy Spanier

Memphis Blues

Rosetta

Feather Brain Blues

Muggsy Spanier

Muggsy Special

When My Dreamboat Comes Home

Judy

Tin Roof Blues

A Monday Date

Muggsy Spanier (cornet) with his Ragtime Band, Bechet-Spanier Big Four, Bucktown Five, Chicago Rhythm Kings, Ted Lewis and his Band, Ben Pollack and his Pick A Rib Boys, Lee Wiley, Muggsy Spanier and his Orchestra and Ragtimers and Jazz Band; The Hines-Spanier All Stars

Recorded 1924-57

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4254 [77:40 + 78:20]

As the booklet cover announces, one of the principal virtues of this twofer is its inclusion of the complete Great Sixteen and Big Four sessions. One might have feared a selection only, given Retrospective’s usual compilation policy, so this is welcome indeed. Both these sessions make up the first disc and they surely need little introduction, representing in many ways the apogee of Muggsy Spanier’s studio career. The Sixteen, recorded on four days between July and December 1939, featured a succession of tenor sax players and other musicians but the core of Spanier, trombonist George Brunies and clarinettist Rod Cless (invariably underrated) remained. Spanier’s driving cornet lead, stylistically and timbrally derived from King Oliver, marries excitement with pugnacity, ringing declamation with blues-drenched South Side richness, his vibrato coiling and twisting tightly. These are his most famous sides, notwithstanding the later post-war ones, but it’s wise not to overlook Brunies’ booting trombone, George Zack’s rolling boogie-infused piano playing, tenor player Nick Caiazza – like Cless grievously overlooked by most Jazz historians – and his rhapsodic Hawkins-based solos, nor indeed Bernie Billings’ contributions; another underrated tenor stylist. To have these tracks followed by The Big Four – Spanier, Sidney Bechet, guitarist Carmen Mastren and bassist Wellman Braud – and their 1940 Chamber Jazz recordings is to have a surfeit of riches. The dovetailing intimacy of these sessions, the collective beauty of the foursome, is augmented by tasteful cadential passages for the horn men, and the spirit of selfless, collaborative lyricism. This kind of thing was almost unparalleled in Bechet’s legacy on disc, where macho jousting with trumpet leads was a norm.

The second disc delves both back and then forward, from 1924 when, as a 17 year old, he first recorded with the Bucktown Five, to a souvenir from the Club Hangover, San Francisco in 1957 where he co-led a band with Earl Hines. This first is the only acoustic recording in the set but shows his chops in fine working order, indeed precociously so, alongside the influential clarinettist Volly de Faut. There’s a track from The Chicago Rhythm Kings, an all-star band including Frank Teschemacher and Mezz Mezzrow, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon and Gene Krupa. Ted Lewis may have had a bad press down the years for his gas-pipe clarinetting but he certainly knew how to nurture great Jazz players and Royal Garden Blues has long been a favourite of mine with Spanier’s dynamic lead and Fats Waller’s ebullient piano playing and vocalising. The Ben Pollack track – My Wild Irish Rose – is not nearly so well-known and interesting to hear for that reason alone. The two tracks where Spanier accompanies Lee Wiley – famously reissued badly pitched on LP all those years ago – are graced also by Jess Stacy’s beautiful piano playing Spanier’s succession of bands from the 40s onwards, some smaller ensembles called the Ragtimers, others larger and called his Orchestra, continue the high level of executant skill. We hear from celebrated sidemen such as Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Lou McGarity et al. Perhaps less familiar, even to Muggsy mavens are the 1954 Deccas with trombonist Ralph Hutchinson and clarinettist Phil Gomez alongside in the front line. These full-toned tracks are well worth getting to know as the players are interesting and there’s an excellent rhythm section – Truck Parham, no less, is on bass.

Digby Fairweather pays excellent homage to Muggsy in his booklet notes, and admirers of the cornetist – certainly those who lack the full 16 or Big Four – should seriously consider this smoothly transferred release.

Jonathan Woolf



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