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The Genius of the Electric Guitar

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Album Review

First, a few myths get cleared up by the very existence of this box, which goes far beyond the original Columbia compilations with the same name. For starters, Columbia goes a long way to setting the record straight that Charlie Christian was not the first electric guitarist or the first jazz guitarist or the first electric guitarist in jazz. For another, they concentrate on only one thing here: documenting Christian's seminal tenure with Benny Goodman's various bands from 1939-1941. While in essence, that's all there really is, various dodgy compilations have been made advertising Christian playing with Lester Young or Lionel Hampton. It's true that he did, but only in the context of the Goodman band. There are 98 tracks spread over four CDs, all of which have been remastered from original sources — the sound is nothing short of breathtaking. The tracks include the well-known master takes, all 70 of them, as well as 17 never before released alternates and 28 cuts that have only been issued on European or Japanese compilations. What all of this compiling proves is one thing certainly: all single-disc collections cannot begin to do justice to the legend and methyl that surrounds Christian's genius. The single-disc ventures are merely shadows, not even photographs or snaps of the massive wealth of musicality that this collaboration between these two men, and the various bands and orchestras they were involved in. Chronologically laid out, the notes are exhaustive enough to include take numbers for jazz historians to argue about. For the rest of us, we get to delve deep into the Goodman band's treasure trove with "Flying Home," "Rose Room," "Memories of You," "AC-DC Current" — with a killer Lionel Hampton vibes solo, as well as Christian's fat-shaped chords that sound downright funky — "Gone With What Wind," and more masters with those slippery solos and lilting clarinets. Plus, we get nine alternate takes just on disc one. Disc two brings Lester Young and Buck Clayton to the Goodman sextet, as well as players like Georgie Auld and Cootie Williams. These sides in 1940 are the most cooking, as Christian has to actually get in and mix it up with the horns. Among the most noteworthy are "Ad Lib Blues," "Lester's Dream," "Wholly Cats," and "Royal Garden Blues." The alternates are three takes of "Six Appeal (My Daddy Rocks Me)" and two of "Good Enough to Keep (Air Mail Special)," which must have been hell to pick between for the original issues — they all smoke. Disc three puts the Goodman sextet in a new groove, with Count Basie making the scene briefly with Williams and Auld. The trading of fours between Basie and Christian on "Breakfast Feud" — of which there are even steamier alternate takes — is one of the highlights of either's career, and the only place on record where Goodman himself gets lost in the beat. Finally, disc four presents the Goodman Orchestra, Metronome All-Star Review, and his own big band. The sheer talent on these sides is dizzying to even list: Gene Krupa, Harry James, Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Pete Mondello, Fletcher Henderson, and on. Christian shines on all of these sides. Backed by a rhythm guitarist (acoustic), and a big rhythm section, his solos are wracked with fluttering arpeggios that seem to meander before sideswiping the listener with their on-target incision into the melodic framework of the tune and their absolutely in-the-pocket sense of time. Along with alternate takes, there are sextet false starts and breakdowns included, as well as the Goodman Orchestra's rehearsals. The fourth is easily the most exhausting disc of the set to listen through, but it also has the most astonishing music. This set is an archivist's dream, to be sure, but it nonetheless offers the rest of listeners plenty as well: a complete education in Goodman, as well as Christian and the eras, and to be sure, the most potent music outside the Ellington band from those years. In addition, Peter Broadbent's encyclopedic biographical notes and Loren Schoenberg' s obsessively (yes, that's a good thing) musical notes make for an indispensable package both historically and aesthetically.

Customer Reviews

Wonderful boxed set

I have the boxed set and recommend it highly. The music is tight, inventive, fun. Charlie is awesome, but he is one part of an incredibly talented group. The alternate takes and false starts are interesting and give you the feeling of hanging out in the studio with them. The producer did an astounding job pulling this together. But Benny Goodman is the real star here. Check out any version of Breakfast Feud for a taste.


Born: July 29, 1916 in Dallas, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s

It can be said without exaggeration that virtually every jazz guitarist that emerged during 1940-65 sounded like a relative of Charlie Christian. The first important electric guitarist, Christian played his instrument with the fluidity, confidence, and swing of a saxophonist. Although technically a swing stylist, his musical vocabulary was studied and emulated by the bop players, and when one listens to players ranging from Tiny Grimes, Barney Kessel, and Herb Ellis, to Wes Montgomery and George...
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