MIDNIGHT STEPPERS (3CD)
Fantastic Voyage (FVTD167)
‘70 masterpieces by 34 blues piano heroes' with Otis Spann, Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, Big Maceo, Walter Davis, Eddie Boyd, Pete Johnson, Montana Taylor, Curtis Jones and more...
This is the third in an excellent series on the making of the post war blues, following hot on the heels of previous sets that variously focused on the rise of, and best exponents of, the electric guitar (Screaming And Crying - FVTD137) and the harmonica (Just Wailin' - FVDD157).
Compiled by Mike Rowe, former editor of Blues Unlimited and author of Chicago Breakdown (later re-issued as Chicago Blues), the definitive study in the rise of post war blues in Chicago, this set is thematically split for each CD. The first, 'Bluebird Beat', takes up the story in post-Depression Chicago and emphasises the role played by pianists in the creation of the unique sound that the Bluebird label of Lester Melrose created in Chicago through the 1930s and early 1940s. The architects of this piano sound such as Walter Davis, Big Maceo and Roosevelt Sykes are strongly represented here, alongside names that would rise out of the pack to become big names later on, such as Memphis Slim, and Champion Jack Dupree.
The second CD is geared around the stars of boogie woogie piano, the styles of which were formed further back but the popularity of which was sustained throughout this period. Featuring the great names of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Cripple Clarence Lofton and, my own favourite, Jimmy Yancey, there are loads of marvellously inventive and hugely enjoyable pieces on offer here.
The set concludes with the third disc which is focused on the pianists in the post war period who were so influential in the evolution of the electrified Chicago blues that was to appear in the fifties. While this sound was dominated by other instruments, notably guitar and harmonica, this CD demonstrates that pianists who prospered through this period, such as Otis Spann, Eddie Boyd, Sunnyland Slim, Willie Mabon, Little Johnny Jones and more, were equally adept as influential sidemen and as front men alike.
So, another super contribution from Fantastic Voyage, presenting an enjoyably informative overview of the piano and pianists in the evolution of the blues. No major surprises or rarities, just great ivory-tickling music from start to finish.
Review Date: July 2013