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A few fairly worthwhile records have been released to the public in recent months, and it might not be such a bad idea here and now to say a few words about some of them before they become collectors' items.
Not long ago Leonard Feather, England's gift to the jazz critic's profession, arranged an album for the Victor company called "Esquire's All-American Hot Jazz." It features some of the musicians chosen by the Esquire people, including Mr. Feather, for their 1946 Gold Awards. There are four twelve-inch sides, three of which represent the not quite successful efforts of such noteworthies as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Red Norvo to turn a trio of Feather's weird compositions into memorable music.
The Armstrong blues vocal on "Long, Long Journey" should have been something to write home about because the old master of delayed action rhythm and bottom-of-the-well tonsilar gymnastics had not sung any blues for the wax machine since the Decca New Orleans album. For some unknown reason, however, although Satchelmouth's vocal cords seemed to be in the best of form, the record doesn't register. Arrangers of all-star recording sessions encounter innumerable difficulties, especially when they use original tunes. This time the synthetically blue lyric and melody of Mr. Feather's just weren't enough of a catalyst for King Louie. The other side, featuring the Armstrong trumpet, is a little better although the arrangement and the theme with which Mr. Feather saw fit to provide the musicians would have been more in place on a score of background music for one of Walt Disney's short animated cartoons.
The first side of the other record is even more obviously conceived in the Mickey Mouse style. Red Norvo and some of his former sidemen of the Brunswick days found the kaleidoscopic score so complicated that they had to cut it nine times and even then the finished product sounded like nothing so much as St. Vitus's dance set to music.
The last one of the bunch, strangely enough not written by Mr. Feather and without either Louie, Ellington, or Norvo, is by far the best. As a matter of fact it is one of the best hot records of recent years. Don Byas, temporarily forsaking the riffy, howling style he has been courting lately, and Johnny Hodges, from whom one might well have expected at least one good performance, take up most of the twelve inches with slow lyrical and tender soloings on an undistinguished, though at least idiomatic, popular tune of several years back called "Gone With the Wind." Hodges is on his best behaviour, playing the type of music he likes best in the style in which he best likes to play it; and as for Don Carlos Byas, eh bien; some circles believe he never did as well before.
In closing, a word about Leonard Feather is in order. Mr. Feather is another one of our imported critics and as such labors under some of the same handicaps that were sketched here in a previous column about Hugues Panassie. As an arranger and composer he hasn't acquired quite enough of the American jazz idiom. "Mop Up," "My Ideal" and numerous other Commodore records handled by Feather on which numbers of big guns in the jazz world have emitted nothing but pops illustrate comprehensively his type of cramping, pseudo-modernistic, flagrantly artificial arrangements. Here we have the reverse of the King Midas situation, for it seems all of the Gold Award players turn to lead when Feather handles them. Yes, one might say that though Leonard writes interesting copy for several nationally known magazines, like most critics of anything he talks a much better game than he plays.
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