The first of a five-volume CD series released by the European Classics label that reissues all of the recordings led by trumpeter Red Allen during 1929-41 is one of the best. The great trumpeter is first heard fronting the Luis Russell Orchestra for such classics as "It Should Be You" and "Biff'ly Blues," he interacts with blues singer Victoria Spivey, and on the selections from 1933 (two of which were previously unreleased) he co-leads a group with tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Not all of the performances are gems but there are many memorable selections including "How Do They Do It That Way," "Pleasin' Paul," "Sugar Hill Function,," and "Patrol Wagon Blues." Other soloists include trombonists J.C. Higginbottham and Dicky Wells, clarinetist Albert Nicholas and altoist Charlie Holmes.
During the period covered by this second of four Classics CDs, Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra was at the peak of its powers, dominating the jazz scene of the Midwest. There were not a lot of famous names in the group yet, but the soloists were colorful, and the band's ensembles could really rock in a pre-swing manner. The main players at the time included cornetist Ed Lewis, Harlan Leonard on various reeds, baritonist Jack Washington and Moten himself on piano. Highlights include "Moten Stomp," "Kansas City Breakdown," "Get Low-Down Blues," "Terrific Blues" and the remake of the band's hit "South."
By 1929, Red Nichols had been active as a recording artist for nearly eight years. He had been making a name for himself as a leader since 1925, usually in the company of a superhuman trombonist by the name of Miff Mole. While some folks might focus upon the presence of Jimmy Dorsey, seasoned early jazz addicts will also cherish the opportunity to commune with the spirits of Miff Mole, Vic Berton and Arthur Schutt. The first three selections reveal what these men were able to accomplish under optimal conditions,( i.e. without vocals or violins). The band is wonderful, especially when Adrian Rollini introduces "Allah's Holiday" with the bass saxophone or takes a weird solo during "Roses of Picardy" using an ebonite tube full of holes with a clarinet mouthpiece stuck in the end of it…
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."