The Genius of the Electric Guitar
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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.
Good, but not his very best
Charlie Christian was one of the most creative and influential jazz guitarists ever. He was introduced to Benny Goodman by impresario John Hammond and Benny wouldn't listen to him because his clothes were too loud. As the story goes, Hammond sneaked Christian's amp out onto the stage between tunes, and when Goodman came back out, he was so mad that he called a tune he thought Charlie wouldn't know -- the 1920s chestnut, Rose Room (the first cut on this album). Charlie's solo blew the room away, and he toured with Goodman until his death from tuberculosis in 1941, at the age of 24. Some of his most important work, though, was done elsewhere, especially after hours at clubs like Minton's Playhouse, where he jammed with people like Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny Clark, helping to invent the vocabulary of early bop. None of that appears on this album, which is all Goodman sides. These are more restrained, with shorter, less improvisational solos. The band is hot, though, featuring vibraphonist Lionel Hampton among others, and even Charlie's scripted solos are sometimes breathtaking. (They inspired Wes Montgomery, who learned guitar by memorizing them.) Sound quality is decent on this album -- it can be much worse on some others. On the whole, a good collection, but if you haven't heard the Minton's recordings you can't say you really understand what Charlie Christian gave to jazz in his brief career.
leaves me wanting more...
This release is kinda misleading. it does have songs which feature Charlie Christian playing but it's actually recording of Benny Goodman's bands of various sizes. Still Christian solos are very nice and it is hard to believe he was laying down rifts like that back in the 30s. Way ahead of his time. but he died very young at 24 so recording like this is all we got. so check it out if your are a Jazz/ music historian or just a plan old guitar fan.
Born: July 29, 1916 in Dallas, TX
Years Active: '30s, '40s