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Great White Way Blues (1922-1931)

Original Memphis Five

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Album Review

In the '20s, no jazz combo was documented more thoroughly than the Original Memphis Five, which had made over 400 recordings by the time it broke up in 1931. It would be nice to see a label gather up everything the classic jazz/Dixieland group ever recorded and put out a comprehensive box set — in which case, you'd probably be looking at a minimum of 16-20 CDs. But if such a set existed, only the most obsessive completists and jazz historians would want to invest in it; the vast majority of jazz enthusiasts would be happy with a more affordable single-disc collection like Great White Way Blues. Spanning 1922-1931, this French CD is far from the last word on the New Orleans combo but does provide a rewarding 22-song sample of its work. Most of the material is respectable — except for the goofy "That Barking Dog (Woof! Woof!)," Jazz Archives stays away from novelty items — and the spirited, exuberant playing of trumpeter/leader Phil Napoleon and trombonist Miff Mole is a joy. The lineups vary; some selections employ Charles Panelli or Tommy Dorsey on trombone instead of Mole or George Bohn, or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet instead of Jimmy Lytell. In fact, "Fireworks" from 1928 and "Jazz Me Blues" and "Anything" from 1931 give listeners a chance to hear what the Dorsey Brothers sounded like before they became superstars of the swing era. But whatever the lineup, Napoleon is heard on trumpet throughout the CD. Because Jazz Archives presents the material in chronological order, one can hear the sound quality improving gradually as the collection moves along — if you notice that the pre-1925 recordings have a tinny sound, it's because the microphone hadn't yet been invented. Again, Great White Way Blues is far from the last word on the Five, but it's certainly among the collections to acquire if you're exploring the group's music for the first time.

Biography

Formed: 1917

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s

Founded in 1917 by trumpeter Phil Napoleon and pianist Frank Signorelli, this excellent New Orleans jazz quintet made a ton of records between 1921-1931, including many under different names (such as Ladd's Black Aces and Carolina Cotton Pickers). Napoleon, trombonist Miff Mole (who in 1922 was succeeded by Charles Panelli), clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, Signorelli, and drummer Jack Roth were regular fixtures in the early days; starting in 1926 the personnel changed fairly frequently with cornetist Red...
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Great White Way Blues (1922-1931), Original Memphis Five
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