Last year, I stumbled across YouTube recordings of some of the very last performances of Jimmie Noone, from just weeks before he died in 1944, after joining Kid Ory's band on the Orson Welles Radio Show. Today, I'm happy to report that this CD reissue, with no liner notes or mention of the historical importance of the contents, appears to be a remastered collection of air checks dating from the last days of Jimmie Noone.
Jimmie's unique staccato technique and soaring altissimo are immediately identifiable on "High Society", though as I mentioned last spring, his playing of the 'test solo' suggests he might have been having trouble breathing at the time.
Though the cover says this is Noone with Kid Ory, I don't believe for a second that all of the tracks feature Jimmie on clarinet. The second track, "Sugar Foot Stomp" features a clarinetist who can only be considered incompetent compared to a master like Noone. The mystery clarinetist has a rough tone, plays out of tune, and is rhythmically far sloppier than Noone.
Tracks 3, 4, and 5 feature Noone again on "Muskrat Ramble", "That's A Plenty" and "Panama Rag"--the only recordings of Noone on these standards, so far as I know. The lilting staccato, lightness of touch and velvety roundness of tone without sacrificing power are all there--that unique inimitable quality of Noone's distinctive Creole style. He doesn't take a 'solo chorus' on any of these, Ory opting for the band to remain with a polyphonic approach throughout. True lovers of this style will recognize that Jimmie is actually soloing the entire time, and while the rest of the band has its roughness (the lead trumpet is at times pretty poor), Jimmie is uniformly brilliant--showing an entirely different approach to this music than we often hear.
Track 6 is entitled "Jimmy's Blues" and is actually a version of "Tin Roof Blues. Noone isn't the clarinetist. Whoever it is, he was nowhere near the virtuoso of Noone. His tone is rougher, has none of the distinctive Noone style, and he plays flat. This is likely the clarinetist from "Sugar Foot Stomp." My guess is this was played as an homage to Noone after his passing.
Yet another clarinetist seems to be present on "Savoy Blues." The clarinetist's tone has more of that velvety quality we associate with Creole clarinet, including his altissimo and high clarion notes, but his technical figurations sound less like standard Jimmie Noone and in fact very much like Barney Bigard. Likewise with "Weary Blues." The soloing is very good, but if this is Noone, the soloing style is very different than any other recordings of his.
With "C'est L'Autre Can Can", we're perhaps back in the hands of a mystery clarinetist, but I wouldn't try to guess who. "Blues" sounds like it might indeed be Noone again...but perhaps not.
The transfers on this disc aren't the best quality, and the lack of notes and/or clarity about the personnel make this it bit frustrating, but to have several of the very last performances of Jimmie Noone commercially available at all makes up for most of the frustrations. The search for an audiophile level remaster of these (and more if they exist), with good historical information on the performances remains, but until those are available, Jimmie Noone fans will definitely want this disc.