MASTERS OF JAZZ AND BLUES 1936-1944 (4CD)
Another fabulous box set from JSP - 110 tracks compiling the great sounds of the Harlem Hamfats, a mind-blowing amalgam of top notch jazz and blues musicians whose recordings placed an emphasis squarely on good time, joyously upbeat music and high level ensemble musicianship.
Initially put together in Chicago in 1936 by A&R man Mayo Williams just as a studio band to provide back up to more famed jazz and blues singers, the Hamfats soon out-lived the original purpose and, with the success of their first own name recording, Oh! Red, the band embarked on a recording career of their own.
The core of the band featured two Mississippi blues titans, brothers Charlie and Joe McCoy, who in the late 1920s and early 1930s had both already contributed their exceptional guitar and mandolin skills to many sensational, and now historic, recordings of Tommy Johnson, Bo Carter, Walter Vinson, Ishmon Bracey, Memphis Minnie and others.
Holed up in Chicago in the mid 1930s, Mayo Williams teamed the McCoys with some top jazz men, including Herb Morand (trumpet) and Odell Rand (clarinet). This core group, along with a changing array of other musicians, recorded jazz dressed up as blues and blues dressed up as jazz until the market for their kind of entertainment fizzled out in the early 1940s.
With the main song writing and vocal duties shared, at least initially, between Joe McCoy and Herb Morand, the band effortlessly presented both down home blues from the country alongside the more sophisticated hot jazz sounds of the modern city, with plenty of forays into hokum blues, novelties and occasional ballads. This approach and capability remained constant, even though the band membership became more fluid over time, notably adding fine female singers and recording under other names (such as the Palooka Washboard Band and Big Joe And His Rhythm among others).
With 110 tracks this good to choose from it is an invidious task to pick out favourites but I would certainly recommend Weed Smoker’s Dream to those of you who, like us, have gone potty over C.W. Stoneking over recent years. This track, recorded in 1936, sounds spookily like an out-take from Stoneking’s marvellous Jungle Blues album of a few years back.
A truly magnificent set that you’ll never, ever tire of!
Review Date: August 2016