As he delved deeper into commercial soul-jazz and jazz-funk, Lou Donaldson became better at it. While lacking the bite of his hard bop improvisations or the hard-swinging funk of Alligator Bogaloo, Midnight Creeper succeeds where its predecessor, Mr. Shing-A-Ling failed: it offers a thoroughly enjoyable set of grooving, funky soul-jazz. The five songs – including two originals by Donaldson and one each by Lonnie Smith (who also plays organ on the record), Teddy Vann, and Harold Ousley – aren't particularly distinguished, but the vibe is important, not the material. And the band – Donaldson, Smith, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, guitarist George Benson, and drummer Leo Morris – strikes the right note, turning in a fluid, friendly collection of bluesy funk vamps. Donaldson could frequently sound stilted on his commercial soul-jazz dates, but that's not the case with Midnight Creeper.
The main change for the Duke Ellington Orchestra during this period was that the increasingly unreliable Bubber Miley (an alcoholic) was fired by Ellington in January 1929 and quickly replaced by Cootie Williams. Otherwise, the personnel was stable, featuring trombonist Joe Tricky Sam Nanton, altoist Johnny Hodges, and clarinetist Barney Bigard as key soloists along with trumpeters Miley, Arthur Whetsol, and Freddie Jenkins. Most of the selections from this era border on the classic, with highlights including Miley's spot on "Bandanna Babies," "I Must Have That Man," "Harlemania," and a two-part version of "Tiger Rag."
The young Claudio Arrau made records in Berlin and London which reveal the lasting qualities of his pianism: a sovereign technical command, a deep patience and a gravitation towards weighty matters, enriched by his study with ‘philosopher pianists’ such as Busoni and Martin Krause, that resulted in these profound and impassioned recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, most of which have not previously appeared on CD, and all of them newly remastered for this tribute to a master pianist of the 20th century.
During the period covered in this CD from Classics' Complete Ethel Waters series, the singer was quickly developing into a top musical comedy and Broadway star. Although her backup was not as jazz-oriented as previously (despite the presence of such players as clarinetist Benny Goodman, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto and trumpeter Manny Klein), Waters's renditions of many of these future standards are definitive, particularly "True Blue Lou," "Waiting at the End of the Road," "Porgy," "You're Lucky to Me" and "When Your Lover Has Gone." Superior jazz-oriented singing from one of the very best.
Trying to make sense of Duke Ellington's massive catalog is one of the more daunting tasks facing jazz lovers. His early output alone includes scores of songs, often with several different versions and a variety of record labels to consider. For completists, the Classics label offers a chronological route covering the mid-'20s through the mid-'40s (without a lot in the way of alternate takes). And while not as strong in content as roundups on Bluebird or Columbia, these discs offer one the thrilling opportunity of witnessing Ellington go from novelty jungle material to sophisticated early swing and on into the annals of jazz legend with those stellar early-'40s sides…