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Swing is one of the most venerated styles of jazz. The capital "s" differentiates it from the more abstract attribute attainable through virtually any vernacular. Age and so-called "innovation" have leavened some of music's sweep. But reissues are instructive windows into why it will likely never die.
Just as it’s easy to forget Swing’s earlier primacy, so to do its pioneering practitioners often fall by the wayside of public memory. Saxophonist Bud Freeman was one of the greats, but most casual jazz fans would likely be hard pressed to name him. This recent Prestige compilation goes a long way toward retrieving his visage from the clutches of anonymity.
Completists will likely cringe at the somewhat piecemeal structure of the program. The first eight cuts derive from the titular album. The next three come from a session under the leadership of bassist Leonard Gaskin released as Darktown Strutter’s Ball. Three more tracks by Freeman’s Windy City Five round things out, turning back the calendar to 1935. Why the producers opted for this sequence over the inclusion of complete albums is a mystery, but the quality of the music largely supercedes the question.
Freeman found a more than capable frontline foil in the form of Shorty Baker. The two horns are suitably supported by the rhythm section led by pianist Claude Hopkins. Duvivier and Heard, though often slotted as modernists, also make an ably swinging team. While the date is the outcome of a Rudy Van Gelder recording session, a questionable reverb echo saturates the horns during several of their solos. It’s an unfortunate studio trick, though not overbearingly distracting. More importantly, Freeman’s horn didn’t need it. His tone is already rich and resonating in weight and reach. “Shorty’s Blues" and “Hector’s Dance” are the only custom-penned tunes. Duvivier’s fat bass trot anchors the former as the horns riff warmly. Hopkins comps simply and the tune travels along at a buoyant bounce. It’s a delegation of duties repeated on the latter tune to fine effect.
Gaskin’s set adds hefty numbers to a quartet chassis and the increased girth creates a swinging horn choir. The brass players, four in count, achieve a particularly fulsome Nawlins feel. Oddly enough, though it says differently in the liner notes, the large ensemble also tackles “It Had to Be You” and “Farewell Blues.” On the former Freeman broad burnished tone tickles the bright melody deferring for some spectacular brass fireworks. All this atop a crackling beat set up by the leader and drummer Lovelle.
Easily on par all-star wise with the disc’s core session is the concluding time capsule. From Berigan through Cole, every man in the band is a legend. It raises another question as to why Bud Freeman isn’t more often included in their illustrious company. He, like so many others, may have fallen between the popular history book pages. But this set sounds off as a resounding reminder for those unacquainted with this Chicago tenor hero to wake up and take notice.