JSP's All Star Jazz Quartets is a 97-track mini-archive of early jazz and small-band swing records dating from the years 1927-1941. Like any JSP compilation, four-CD box set is reasonably priced and packed to the gills with great vintage music. Disc one focuses mainly on brass players, beginning with Louis Armstrong's "Coal Cart Blues," and touching upon the Parisian adventures of Rex Stewart and Dickie Wells. The inclusion of five gutsy jams by the Hot Lips Page Trio adds tremendous value to this set. Page's "trio" was actually a quartet with guitarist Teddy Bunn, Ernest "Bass" Hill, and critic/producer Leonard Feather at the piano. Cornetist Jabbo Smith is heard with pipe organist Fats Waller, pianist James P. Johnson, and multi-reedman Garvin Bushell in a 1928 chamber jazz ensemble known as the Louisiana Sugar Babes. Jabbo also leads his own Rhythm Aces in a fast-paced, frantic "Jazz Battle." There are several fine pieces by Harry James with Teddy Wilson, and one early example of Tommy Dorsey blowing a muted trumpet. This excellent volume closes with two old-styled masterworks by Muggsy Spanier and Sidney Bechet's Hot Record Society unit, the Big Four.
Disc two is primarily devoted to reed players, with Benny Goodman's Quartet grabbing the first seven tracks, followed by Joe Marsala with Roy Eldridge and Frank Teschemacher with Eddie Condon's Quartet. Bechet reappears with Spanier and also as a member of Noble Sissle's Swingsters. One sterling example from saxophonist Coleman Hawkins leads to a Blue Note session led by clarinetist Edmond Hall with electrically amplified guitarist Charlie Christian and boogie-woogie master Meade "Lux" Lewis, who operates a tinkling celeste. On "Call Me a Taxi" and "I Hear You Talking," tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller and three colleagues from Bob Crosby's scaled down band are billed as Four of the Bob Cats. Omer Simeon signifies with his own quartet anchored by pianist Earl Fatha Hines, and as a member of a foursome led by Jelly Roll Morton. One of the great definitive traditional jazz records, Jelly's "Mournful Serenade" is a masterpiece of intimate collaboration.
Disc three is mostly given over to stringed instruments, with fiddler Joe Venuti commandeering the entire first half of the menu in collusion with virtuoso guitarist Eddie Lang. Highlights in this part of the package include Adrian Rollini's hot fountain pen solo on "Kickin' the Cat"; Teschemacher's brave essay on bassoon during "Runnin' Ragged," and Jimmy Dorsey's warbling clarinet during the opening of "Raggin' the Scale." Teschemacher's handling of the bassoon echoes Bushell's efforts on that instrument with the Louisiana Sugar Babes. Violinist Eddie South is represented by records he cut in the U.S. with his own Alabamians and in Paris with Django Reinhardt. There are also brief outings with French fiddlers Stéphane Grappelli and Michel Warlop. This delightful disc rounds off with encores by the Edmond Hall and Spanier/Bechet groups.
Disc four is thickly populated by old-style jazz quartets with a high incidence of washboard percussion. Louis Armstrong re-manifests as a member of Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards alongside clarinetist Johnny Dodds and pianist Jimmy Blythe. Dodds is well-represented with the Chicago Footwarmers, the Dixie Land Thumpers, and the Beale Street Washboard Band. Several New York-based groups led by Clarence Williams are also propelled by rub boards, and the anthology closes pleasantly enough with a half-dozen sides by Harlem stride pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith & His Cubs. This is an extraordinarily enjoyable compilation, and anyone interested in high quality pre-WWII small-group jazz ought to seriously consider obtaining a personal copy in order to stay in touch with tradition while staving off negative vibrations.