Jelly Roll Morton – Volumes 1-5 (JSP)
The old Bluebird/BMG “Centennial” five-disc set was one of the first purchases I made when I was first really started getting into early jazz.
More than 20 years ago …
I hammered it for years, but then – as I amassed a pretty tidy collection of old-school, pre-war jazz, it fell into non-use.
Over the years, there’s been criticism of that set’s use of the “NoNOISE” technology, which allegedly makes it wildly inferior to the sound of the JSP set.
But that’s not why I stopped playing it – or why I played it only occasionally.
That had more to do with the track sequencing, with the alternate takes grouped together with their masters.
That makes a certain kind of sense – but there are so many alternates, that it makes the Bluebird set far from user-friendly.
And while some experts – of which I am certainly not one – may disagree, there’s not a lot of difference, to my ears, between different takes of the same tune.
Now, a long time later, I’ve finally gotten around to getting the JSP.
And it’s a joy.
The alternates are nicely tucked away on discs four and five, leaving the meat of the matter on the three discs at the front end.
It’s all incredible brilliance and genius, Morton and his tunes abetted by the likes of Kid Ory, Omer Simoen, Johnny St Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds and many more.
Listening to this music anew, what strikes me most is the overwhelming completeness of the Morton vision brought to glorious treatment by full bands.
All of these classic tunes were, AFAIK, written and originally performed on piano.
Before the earliest of these cuts, recorded in 1926, Morton had done some band recording – many of those tracks can be heard on the CD Jelly Roll Morton rarities on the JazzOracle label.
But the ebullient majesty and verve of the Bluebird recordings are on another, higher plane.