Jelly Roll Morton: 1926-1930

In both sound quality and price, England’s JSP Records continues to put the American major labels to shame with their prewar jazz collections. Following superb multidisc releases of seminal recordings by Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt, JSP now offers this Jelly Roll Morton compendium, which includes all his Victor recordings from 1926 to 1930. Thanks to the work of remastering guru John R.T. Davies and a sinfully reasonable price, this five-disc collection far surpasses any U.S. release. The music is exuberant and evocative throughout, as Morton’s substantial composing and arranging talents come into clear focus. He was able to maintain the joyous ensemble spirit of New Orleans jazz while continuing the music’s evolution toward swing’s sophistication. Focusing on Morton’s Chicago prime, volume 1 is full of highlights, not just of this set, but of early jazz as a whole. Especially noteworthy is the trio date with the Dodds brothers, from June 1927, that yielded “The Pearls,” “Wolverine Blues,” and “Mr. Jelly Lord.”

Volume 2 follows Morton to New York and features a few forceful piano solos, a strong session with trumpeter Red Allen and unsung clarinet player Albert Nicholas, plus a standout trio date with clarinetist Barney Bigard and drummer Zutty Singleton. Volume 3 is not as consistently brilliant, but offers some gems as well, including cuts with Nicholas and trumpeter Ward Pinkett on board from July 1930. The final two discs contain mostly alternative takes, but unfortunately, the masters of Morton’s terrific New York session debut are for some reason buried at the end of disc four’s alternates. It is, however, a tiny caveat considering the overall worth of this indispensable box. –Marc Greilsamer