1946-49, DELVING BACK WITH HUMPH
Lake LACD72 1997, 21 tracks 70 min
The Thin Red Line, Melancholy Blues, Cakewalking Babies, If You See Me Comin', Panama, Working Man's Blues, Fidgety Feet, Weary Blues, Ole Miss rag, Vox Humana, Elizabeth, Blues For Waterloo, First Of Many, Blues For Two, High Society, Royal Garden Blues, Who'se Sorry Now, Humph Meets Trog, Bugle Call rag, That Da Da Strain, Sugar
My first taste of Humph was when Cow & Gate gave away a single sided thin vinyl record with one of it's products. It was before I was interested in jazz. We could only play 78s at the time, and, after trying it out on my young aunt's record player once to see if it worked, I kept it, only because I hated throwing it away as it was free. Years later, with jazz stirring my blood, I dug it out and played it till the thing inevitable wore out.
My mate had an aunt who was heavily into traditional jazz. If you mentioned Humphry Lyttleton in her company she would swear, and refuse to talk to you again for the rest of the night. We both liked her, so we didn't do it unless she had really upset us. Many traditional jazz fans still feel like that way, and the word 'traitor', and 'betrayal' are two words often cast at Humph to this day. I came to the jazz scene too late to have had my heart broken by Humph's defection to mainstream, but, after listening to this CD, one can but feel sad at the loss to traditional jazz. Humph was, and still is, one of the finest horn players to have come out of the UK. I have some CDs of his later efforts and, although I may skip some of the heavier tracks, I gain much pleasure in listening to him push, pump, and drag emotion from his trumpet.
These delightful 1948-49 tracks are masterpieces of cohesive and smooth jazz played in a style that moves from New Orleans with Humph's own band to Chicago with Carlo Krahmer's Chicagoans. The sound is oft flat, and very typical of the recording standards of the time, lacking the definition that modern multi tracking brings. The tracks are also typically short. The cover notes say that all the tracks were originally recorded on acetates and that there are, therefore, some imperfections. Well I don't care. This CD fascinates me. Humph, on cornet or trumpet, catches your ear and won't let go and clarinetist, Wally Fawkes, well known in the 50s and 60s for his 'Flook' cartoons in the Daily Mail, weaves a magic of his own. Add them to a balanced and co-ordinated band (albeit one of changing membership), and you have a CD that will quickly become a favourite. One surprise was finding Humph joining Fawkes on clarinet on, 'Blues For Two'. Almost as much a shock as finding out that, The Gov'nor, Ken Colyer, also played a sax!
Was Humph a traitor or guilty of betrayal? I leave that to others to decide. A man involved in the Ken Colyer Trust can't be all bad, now can he. Whilst I may not share other's anger, I must admit to feeling down, for now I have been given the Devil's kiss and cannot claim innocence as to the knowledge of the deemed sin.
DELVING BACK & FORTH WITH HUMPH
Lake LACD89 1997, 17 tracks 57 min
Miss Otis Regrets, Working Man Blues, Salty Dog, South, Victory House Drag, High Society, Melancholy Blues, On Treasure Island*, Blues For An Unknown Gypsy/Suffolk Air*, Chattanooga Stomp*, Low Down Dirty Shame*, Hopfrog*, Randolph Turpin Stomp*, Vox Humana Blues*, I Like To Go Back In The Evening*
The first nine tracks are from 1948, whilst the final eight are from a 1986* session. The cover notes tell the story that the earlier tracks are from a chance discovery of unissued recordings that were snapped up by the Stomp Off label. Not having enough material to make up a full album, a contemporary session to be played in the original style was commissioned and the remaining tracks are from that. Well, despite what many older traditional jazz fans may say, Humph still remembers his roots, and the '86 tracks show that he retains the feeling for the style that caused Louis Armstrong to once declare that he was 'the top trumpet man in England......'. If you have Humph's earlier Lake issue, 'Delving Back With Humph', you will notice some of the same numbers being performed. Rest assured, being the good jazzman that he is, Humph serves his tunes up hot, fresh and different. The '48 recordings are much clearer than those on the 'Delving Back With Humph' CD, possibly because, being unissued, they had not been subjected to the same use. The sound quality does vary a bit from track to track, and you really do notice the improvement when you get to the '86 tracks. Whilst the sound quality may vary, the music quality doesn't - it is excellent!
Both sessions are blessed with Wally 'Trogg' Fawkes on clarinet, and as per the earlier CD, have a track with Fawkes and Lyttelton playing a clarinet duet (Blues For An Unknown Gypsy/Suffolk Air). It is always a pleasure to listen to Trogg warbling a reed; he is one of the most underrated clarinetists around, and it is a joy to hear him again in a traditional jazz setting.
The album features many original, or little recorded tunes; many written by Humph himself. The '86 session features much that was part of the '48 band's repertoire. One tune that I don't think could have been, is Lyttelton's, 'Randolph Turpin Stomp'. Now I remember Randolph Turpin as a British boxer of renown. I like the idea of a tune being written in his memory.
THE BEST OF HUMPHREY LYTTLETON
EMI Gold BAST24354-12282, 20 tracks, 71 min
Texas Moaner, Coal Black Shine, Last Smile Blues, Elephant Stomp, Wally Plays The Blues, My Bucket's Got A Hole In It, I Double Dare You, Thatís The Blues Old Man, Feline Stomp, St James Infirmary Blues, Memphis Shake, Mo Oas Lemme Ca, Looking For Turner, Doin' The Rounds, Waiting For Pickard, Bad Penny Blues, Buona Sera, Fish Seller, That's My Home, Apex Blues
This CD was lent to me by a fellow POM in the Hamilton Jazz Club. He had picked it up on a jaunt back to the mother-land and, knowing how I like vintage Humph, thought I might want to listen to it and give it a review.
As with most 'Best of' or 'Greatest Hits', it isn't. Having said that, there is some very enjoyable material here. Tracks 1-12 are from '54 with a band that lacks a trombone, but has Bruce Turner in the front line on alto sax. Tracks 13-16 are from '56 and post 'Humph at the Conway', 17 & 19 are from '57, 18 from '58, and 20 is a throwback to '51. Why they didn't put them in date order I have no idea.
The '54 tracks are from a live concert and, given the state of the technology at the time well recorded, though with a mite too much volume on the drums for my ear. I really had a big smile on my face whilst listening to them and it reinforced my opinion that Humph was/is one of the greatest jazz trumpeters ever and the loss to traditional jazz when he moved to mainstream and beyond tragic for the idiom. The tracks from the later period are really beyond my preference. They are very pretty and well crafted, but they are lazy jazz with no noticeable indication that the bandsmen are doing anything other than playing what is scripted on the music sheets before them: only Humph seems to display any freedom of movement. So those tracks did nothing for me? Confession time: I wrote the notes for this review during my lunch spell at work. One of my work colleagues informed me that I must have been enjoying the music I was listening to on my portable CD player as my feet were tapping away and I had a dreamy look in my eye! Of course I have always loved 'Bad Penny Blues', but who doesn't.
So; overall a good CD. Would I have bought it if I had seen it in a shop? Possibly not, because I would have automatically written off the later tracks, which would have been a pity, as I would have missed out on the pleasure, I am told they gave me. Life is complex isn't it!
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