A contemporary of Louis Armstrong, soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet was in a class with Armstrong as an instrumentalist. With Armstrong, he was one of the first jazzmen to record swinging solos, doing it as early as 1923, and when Bechet played with Louis, he held his own. His playing, featuring a huge vibrato and thrilling glissandi, was especially influential on other saxophonists, particularly the great alto player Johnny Hodges, through whom he marked the work of countless saxmen.
The recordings on this CD were cut with several groups in the '40s; the first eight tracks feature Bechet at his very best in a quartet with cornetist Muggsy Spanier, supported by bass and guitar. The sides they cut are priceless: sometimes lyrical, sometimes fiercely aggressive, Bechet's solos soar and swoop like an eagle's flight. The underrated Spanier performs laudably as well, playing strongly and directly, and blowing very compatibly with Bechet during collective passages.
The rest of the tracks on the album are uneven, played by hastily assembled pickup groups whose members do include some greats, such as pianist James P. Johnson. Whoever Bechet plays with does not affect his improvising — he's always at the top of his game. In any event, this album is worth having for the Bechet-Spanier tracks alone. ~ Harvey Pekar, eMusic