This is where music for mass consumptionrecorded musicstarted, in Richmond, Indiana, in the 1920s, in a piano factory by the railroad tracks in a glacier-carved gorge. Established in 1887, in the beginning Starr Pianos' bread and butter was pianos, but they branched out to selling other instruments and eventually photographs and recordstheir own records, recorded in the piano factory, taking breaks in the process when a train came by. At first, they called their recording side of the business Starr Records, but they switched it to the company's family's name. Thereafter it was Gennett Records.
Gennett Records fought with Victor Talking Machine Company over the rights to the recording processbig guy versus little guy, an old story. Gennett won. Be thankful that they did. This is where so many of the seminal jazz recordings came from, musicians who traveled from south to north, from down New Orleans way, a migration rolling up Highway 61, or more likely on the rails.
That was the 1920s and current jazz fans can be excused for not listening to, or even knowing of, the music which was made in the Starr Piano Factory. But The Gennett Suite by the Buselli/Wallarab Jazz Orchestra can serve as a gateway for the sound.
If this music is obscure to many, it is not for the instigator of The Gennett Suite, Indiana University Professor and composer Brent Wallarab. With the century-old music, he has shaped for the jazz orchestra he presents the art of the pioneers in 4 parts; "Movement 1: Royal Blue" explores the creations of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings then King Oliver and Louis Armstrong; "Movement 2: Blues Faux Bix" embraces the sounds of cornetist, composer and bandleader Bix Beiderbecke; Movement 3 shines the light on Hoagy Carmichael, and "Movement 4: Mr. Jelly Lord" explores the music of Jelly Roll Morton.
The early recordings had the feel of rollicking, loose-jointed good times. By 2023 standards, it is a stark sound. The original "Tin Roof Blues" by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings sounds as if it is held together by baling wire and rubber bands. The Buselli/Wallarab version, in two parts, is majestic, the opposite of stark. It rollicks but in a tighter groove, a sprightlier tempo. Then the screw turns and things slow down to a "Molasses in January" mode, with a luscious arrangement that gathers momentum and then tapers off with a marvelous bear growl solo by Ned Boydthe opening solo of the two-disc set which is packed with inspired step-out-front turns. Then things segue into "Dippermouth Blues," from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band songbook, a monumental take on the tune, with a heavy gravity trombone solo from Andrew Danforth followed by a tart tenor sax turn by Todd Williams.
Disc 2 of the set presents "Movement 3" and "Movement 4," the former immersed in the music of Hoagy Carmichael, the latter going after Jelly Roll Morton ("Stardust"). Like the first two movements, the music has the feel of America, the twenty-first century reaching back and shaking hands with the early-twentieth, taking the artists' relatively primitive recordingsstate of the art for their timesand inviting them into the present, with gorgeous harmonies and luxuriant arrangements.
Additionally, the packaging is first-rate. The two discs come in a hard-cover, coffee book-level quality hardcover booklet with a Gennett Records history lesson by John Edward Hasse and a discussion of the music by David Brent Johnsonexcellent, edifying writing from both.
The Gennett Suite: a distinctly American masterpiece.
Disc 1: Movement 1--Royal Blue: Introduction; Tin Roof Blues, Part 1; Tim Roof
Blues, Part 2;
Chimes Blues; Dippermouth Blues. Movement 2--Blues Faux Bix: Davenport Blues;
Me Blues; Interlude; Wolverine Blues. Disc 2: Movement 3: Hoagland--Stardust;
Shuffle, Part 1; Riverboat Shuffle, Part 2. Movement 4--Mr. Jelly Lord: King Porter
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