February 2008

Budd Johnson - Mr. Bechet
Pure Pleasure Records PPAN006
Format: LP
Originally released: 1974
Reissue released: 2007

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

This reissue from the little-known French Black & Blue label features Budd Johnson on soprano and tenor saxophones and Earl "Fatha" Hines on piano with able support from Jimmy Leary on bass and Panama Francis on drums. Recorded in 1974, this mostly unseen LP demonstrates that in the right hands the soprano sax can be considered a true jazz instrument.

Mr. Bechet is swing jazz with a touch of bop and New Orleans rag tossed in for good measure. It opens with a wonderful rendition of "Blues For Sale" that builds and builds for over nine minutes, with the group demonstrating the debt jazz owes to the blues. Johnson plays both saxes on this track and makes one wonder why he has remained so obscure, considering he worked with almost everyone from 1932 until his death in 1984. Hines, too, is less well remembered than he should be, though he is generally considered the first of the modern jazz pianists. His playing was such a contrast to that of the stride pianists of the day, and he used unusual left-hand accents.

This reissue is a sonic wonder. Each musician is well delineated, yet they all join together to form an organic whole that you can almost reach out and touch. It's demo material if I've ever heard it -- demo material that you’ll actually want to listen to and play for your friends. On sonic grounds alone, this may be Pure Pleasure's most masterful remastering job.