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Various: The Big Horn: The Complete History of the Honkin' and Screamin' Saxophone

Louis Heckheimer By

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Prior to the late 1930s the trumpet was king of the jazz jungle. Coleman Hawkins, along with Lester Young and Chu Berry, established the solo role of the tenor sax in the jazz world and showed what it was capable of. It was not until the 1940s with the rise of Lionel Hampton's Big Band and Illinois Jacquet's solo on “Flying Home” that the voice of the tenor sax became confirmed as the dominant horn in the popular mind.

With the decline of the big bands and the rise of bebop there arose a new form of dance music geared to the black audience called rhythm and blues. The format consisted of a small combo fronted by the tenor sax. Paired with its strong backbeat it proved irresistible to dancers of that period. The tenor sax continued to be the voice of rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll until it was replaced by the guitar in the late 1950s. Proper Records features this phenomenon on The Big Horn.

Proper Records, a UK label, puts out a series of low cost encyclopedic collections of vintage recordings of artists such as Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet and Sonny Stitt among others arranged into four-CD sets. The Big Horn contains 106 tracks made from 1942 to 1952 and covers a broad range of musicians: those with prominent jazz careers, such as Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Benny Golson and Harold Land; those who were known primarily in the rhythm and blues field, such as Big Jay McNeely, Hal Singer and Paul Williams; swing era veterans such as Paul Bascomb, Al Sears and Buddy Tate; and obscure players such as Frank "Floorshow" Culley, John Hardee and Lynn Hope.

A great variety in the recordings falls into this classification. Players such as Big Jay McNeely and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams are the basic minimalists, the literal honkers and screamers. You also have examples like Arnett Cobb and Red Prysock, who certainly did their share of honking and screaming to a strong backbeat but had much more musically complex ideas, being influenced by the bebop revolution.

The collection starts off with Jacquet's classic solo on Lionel Hampton's recording of “Flying Home,” followed by “Blues” from Jazz at the Philharmonic. Also featured are hits for Big Jay McNeely such as “Deacon's Hop” and Paul Williams’ “The Hucklebuck.” Of particular interest are Red Prysock and Benny Golson's chase-like tenor battle on the “Battle of the Mass” with Tiny Grimes' Rocking Highlanders; Harold Land's “Outlandish” from his pre Brown/Roach Days; and Willis Jackson's hard-blowing pre soul jazz work. Contained within is a well-illustrated brochure chock full of history and discographical information.

Apart from this collection being invaluable for its historical perspective, the urge to get up and dance may prove irresistible.


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