For everyone wondering if and when Sony will ever get around to upgrading the CDs of music by legendary guitar-player Charlie Christian, well...I guess we’ll have to keep waiting. In the meantime, though, the good folks at Catfish Records have beaten Sony to the punch with their great-sounding compilation of prime Christian, When Lights Are Low.
At first glance, it’s perplexing to figure out who this is marketed towards. Die-hards will want to wait for a more complete overview of Christian’s work, with planned boxes of material from either Sony or JSP looming. And first-timers will very likely be confused by the fact that there is no discography to speak of, and no indication of who plays what and where. Most listeners will already know that most of these tracks were recorded with Benny Goodman, with whom Christian got his first major exposure; but for someone coming to Christian for the first time, this may not be the first place to start.
But for anyone looking for an inexpensive way to upgrade their existing Columbia Christians, or just an inexpensive collection of good music, period, this is definitely the way to go. The mastering job is once again handled by the engineers at Mass Music in London, and they handle the job as superbly as they did on the Catfish compilation of Muddy Waters music, Streamlined Woman. The obvious improvement soundwise can be heard in Christian’s playing, which inherits a warmer feel with the remastering. The drums and bass are more prominent than on previous issues, and the various brass sections are crisp and tight. You can even hear the rhythm guitar now!
Despite the fact that most of the tracks on this collection come from the two existing Columbia Jazz Masterpiece collections, Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Charlie Christian: Genius of the Electric Guitar, the fact that Catfish picked the cream of Christian’s crop to pepper this disc says a lot about their programming instincts. All the classics are here: “Air Mail Special,” “Flying Home,” “Solo Flight,” Breakfast Feud,” and a personal favorite “Waiting for Benny.” That and the improved sound should tide Christian fans, new and old, until someone at Sony decides to give this legend the sound upgrade and box-set treatment he deserves.
Catfish on the Web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk
Personnel: Charlie Christian, guitar. Other personnel unknown, but Benny Goodman is all over this disc