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Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Joe Turner: The Boss Of The Blues


1) Cherry Red; 2) Roll 'Em Pete; 3) I Want A Little Girl; 4) Low Down Dog; 5) Wee Baby Blues; 6) You're Driving Me Crazy; 7) How Long Blues; 8) Morning Glories; 9) St. Louis Blues; 10) Piney Brown Blues.

One of the most easily available original LPs from Big Joe's career, it also explains fairly well why the popularity of the Boss, miraculously surviving into the 1950s, never made it past that de­cade. His signing up with Atlantic was an accident. It could have been Wynonie Harris, or any out of a dozen other jump blues shouters of the previous decade, all of which had their own cha­risma, too. Granted, Big Joe was a bit brawnier than most, but it doesn't matter that much: For­tune smiled upon the man by crossing his paths with Ahmet Ertegun, who modernized his sound in a way that the kids could dig.

But did he like that modernization, he himself? Possibly, but I see no way he could have loved it. Playing with big jazz bands for fifteen years, then having to dump it all in favour of all these tiny combos with (comparatively) primitive musicianship, I don't really see how he could honestly dig stuff like 'The Chicken And The Hawk' etc. Some of the feelings, at least, must have been akin to grizzled old blues-rockers of the 1960s and 1970s having to adjust their sound to the abysmal ele­ctronic values of the 1980s so they could still have record contracts.

It should come as no surprise, then, that, once re-established as a hitmaker, Big Joe would quick­ly want to profit from it by going all retro. The Boss Of The Blues is only part of the album's title: the subtitle, in honestly equally large letters, reads Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz, and that is exactly what he does. Reunited with old piano pal Pete Johnson and attracting a large crew of professional jazzmen, many of them with Count Basie service time records, Big Joe records a bunch of old standards, all or most of which he'd already cut for Vocalion in the pre-war years. This time, of course, recording quality is much higher, and song lengths have been pumped up — just like before, this isn't Big Joe's show all the time, but unlike before, musicians really get to stretch out like they are supposed to be on a respectable jazz record, not on a boogie single.

The result is a technically excellent, spiritually satisfactory, but, in the end, somewhat hollow piece of lounge jazz nostalgia. Hollow, because 'Roll 'Em Pete', for instance, is given a full arran­gement instead of the original piano-only recording, and this allows the real Pete to take it just a bit — just a tiny bit! — easier than before, and no amount of rhythm swing or brass wailing can compensate for the ferocious boogie soul of the original. Clearly, Big Joe is pining for them old times, and if you forget the context, you can almost see the good old times, but if at the height of his new-found success he was still pining for the good old times, clearly, something was not quite right at the time. Yet still a thumbs up for all those who love good old jazz and blues played by respectable masters of the trade. Some of the sax and trumpet solos are mighty damn good.

Check "The Boss Of The Blues" (CD) on Amazon
Check "The Boss Of The Blues" (MP3) on Amazon

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