It’s funny how some things change, but they still stay the same. See how much of this sounds hauntingly familiar: Back in the 40s, jazz was going through a bit of an identity crises, with people arguing what was “real” jazz. So, an artist by the name of Mezz Mezzrow decided to set up his own recording shop and make some of the music that he felt was losing ground to younger musicians who didn’t have the real feel of jazz. From July of 1945 to December of 1947 he got together some of his like-minded buddies ( Sidney Bechet/ss-cl, Sammy Price/p, “Hot Lips” Page/tp, George “Pops” Foster/b, Danny Barker/g and Kaiser Marshall or “Big Sid”Catlett) and laid out some bona fide music music that was spontaneous, free, heartfelt, and above all REAL. To us, it seems like old fashioned Chicago jazz with a dash of the boogie woogie blues, but to these guys it was a life, a lifestyle and an attitude about life through music.
On this 5 cd set, Mezzrow intersperses little spoken vignettes about the artists and songs between each recording session, giving background info that tells volumes about the thoughts of these coots. Mezzrow makes a point of getting these guys together to keep aflame a music style that wasn’t tarnished by the then present day styles of jazz (such as bop and swing! RADICAL!), but the fact is that much of the music is indeed influenced, and wonderfully so, by the fashion of boogie woogie. Price beats it 8 to the bar while Bechet makes the vibrato on his soprano wider than the wingspan of a 747 on the cooking “I Got You Some” and “I Must have My Boogie.” The twin lines of Mezzrow’s and Bechet’s sticks on “Breathless Blues” and “Really The Blues” is a sonic delight that rivals anything done by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The small group ensembles have a raw energy that is desperately missing in today’s music scene of using a million words from the dictionary but having nothing to say. Mezzrow, Bechet and Page use a bare 1-2 choruses to tell their story, and they are stories worth hearing. A set of solo pieces by Sammy Price contains some of the most red earthed piano work you’ll ever come across.
The only caveat with the collection is that the music is packaged chronologically; making the multiple alternate takes a bit redundant. Mezzrow even answers that problem, however, asking us listeners to delve deep into the music with multiple exposures to gather in the nuances. This is music worth taking in and absorbing like you might with a Dickens novel. The characters are just as dynamic!