My Review of ....

by Albert Haim

The Complete Wolverines: 1924-1928, featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmy McPartland.

Archeophone Off The Record 03.

Produced by Doug Benson and David Sager

Transfers and Restorations by Doug Bension

Research and Notes by David Sager

Package Design by Richard Martina nd Meagan Hennessy

Catalogue number: ARCH OTR-03

UPC: 778632905696

Original release date: April 10, 2012

Running length: 75:56 / 27 tracks

Booklet: 32-page

Tracks recorded: 1924-1928


1. Fidgety FeetWolverine Orchestra (1924)

2. Jazz Me BluesWolverine Orchestra (1924)

3. Oh BabyWolverine Orchestra (1924)

4. CopenhagenWolverine Orchestra (1924)

5. Riverboat ShuffleWolverine Orchestra (1924)

6. Susie [take A] Wolverine Orchestra (1924)

7. Susie [take B] Wolverine Orchestra (1924)

8. I Need Some Pettin'Wolverine Orchestra (1924)

9. RoyalGarden BluesWolverine Orchestra (1924)

10. Tiger RagWolverine Orchestra (1924)

11. SensationWolverine Orchestra (1924)

12. Lazy Daddy [take A] Wolverine Orchestra (1924)

13. Lazy Daddy [take B] Wolverine Orchestra (1924)

14. Tia JuanaWolverine Orchestra (1924)

15. Big BoyWolverine Orchestra (1924)

16. Flock O' BluesSioux City Six (1924)

17. I'm GladSioux City Six (1924)

18. Toddlin' BluesBix & His Rhythm Jugglers (1925)

19. Davenport BluesBix & His Rhythm Jugglers (1925)

20. When My Sugar Walks Down The StreetWolverine Orchestra (1924)

21. Prince of WailsWolverine Orchestra (1924)

22. RoyalGarden BluesThe Original Wolverines (1927)

23. Shim-Me-Sha-WabbleThe Original Wolverines (1927)

24. A Good Man Is Hard To FindThe Original Wolverines (1927)

25. The New TwisterThe Original Wolverines (1927)

26. Limehouse BluesThe Original Wolverines (1928)

27. Dear Old SouthlandThe Original Wolverines (1928)


The Transfers.


Transfers of acoustic 78 rpm records present a challenge for the audio engineer. Doug Benson is a minimalist. His approach is to start with original 78s in the best possible condition and process them as little as possible so as to allow 'the listener's brain to ultimately sort out the music from the noise.' I favor such a philosophy. I am for transfers that utilize the minimum amount of massaging. I want to hear every bit of sound that was embedded in the grooves created on the wax by the cutting needle. I don't like over-processed restorations that sound perfectly clean. I am not impressed with the artificial (I would call it metallic, cold) sound associated with a so-called perfect digital transfer that removes every click, every bit of noise and introduces sounds that were not engraved in the grooves of the original record.


Unfortunately, the minimalist approach cannot be used in every instance. Sometimes, the recording engineer produces a record with excessive extraneous noise level, and/or with a sound that is tinny and dull. Under these circumstances, some degree of restoration is needed.  This happens to be the situation with the Wolverine Gennetts. Fortunately, Doug Benson "used noise reduction very judiciously." Moroever, taking advantage of "evolving audio technology" he brought out details of sound previously lost. Thus the sound of the music in this CD is alive, warm and retains the special charm of 78 records being played on a vintage gramophone.


In addition, special care was taken to play the records at a consistent speed. The approach was to play the records to be transferred at the speed necessary to bring the piano to being tuned at A-440. The resulting speeds covered the range of 77.42 to 80.9 rpm.


The Liner Notes.


This is an area that presents a challenge for the writer. When confronted with the task of providing information and commentaries about 1920s recordings, the writer has to be concerned with two crucial aspects: the history and the music. David Sager has faced this challenge by successfully balancing these two aspects.


Perhaps, the most important feature of David's thesis is that the Wolverines were "modern." David distinguishes between the concepts of "modern" and "revolutionary." This is, in my opinion an extremely important distinction. I have often thought that an art form is changed by revolutionaries, starting with what might be called a primitive approach, but the particular art form being analyzed achieves maturity with later artists. Perhaps, we could view the Original Dixieland Jazz Band as revolutionaries and the Wolverines as the mature artists, modern using David's vocabulary. The present comments fit nicely with Davids thesis, namely, that the Wolverines brought the genre to a high level of sophistication ("consistently add smartly arranged passages using augmented and extended chords-such as added ninths and thirteenths, and whole tone scales.")


The particular style of the Wolverines has often been associated with the "Sock Time." This, David tells us is an elusive concept, but still provides interesting insights into it. "Sock time was a rhythmic interaction more intimate and cerebral than out-and-out hot playing. It created emphasis and heat by implication and simplification." Indeed, the heat generated by the Wolverines was not "in your face" but subtle and economic.


One of the myths surrounding Bix is that he played with inferior musicians. I am happy to read David's comments about Bix's fellow musicians in the band. Indeed banjoist Bobby Gillette and drummer Vic Moore provided a strong rhythmic support, and I agree with David that Jimmy Hartwell was "an excellent clarinetist." Of course, no one was at Bix's level, but what 1920s musicians were? Bix was unequalled, a musical genius seldom seen in jazz or in music in general.


Following his general remarks, David goes into detailed musical accounts of each of the tracks in the CD and includes chronological information. We have all 16 tracks (including alternates) recorded by the Wolverine Orchestra in 1924, two tracks from 1924 also, but after Bix had left and had been replaced by Jimmy McPartland, two tracks by the Sioux City Six in 1924, two by Bix and His Rhythm Jugglers in early 1925. All these are acoustic recordings. Finally, we have six electric recordings by the Original Wolverines in 1927 and 1928.  I find the integration of musical and historical information quite successful. The two types of material complement each other and give us a broad perspective of what the Wolverines were all about. Since David is an accomplished trombonist and a highly competent musicologist, his remarks provide the reader with a profound technical insight into the musicianship of the Wolverines. Take, for example, this quote from the analysis of "Big Boy." "At about 1:13 into the tune -during a sax break- Bix takes over the piano. His subsequent chorus is redolent with great swinging time and humor. There are illusions [sic; should be allusions; sorry about that, David, but the professor in me reared its ugly head, J] to popular 1920s piano stylings, such as the parallel fourths, a la Zez Confrey. His two-measure break shows restrain and subtle wit.' Undoubtedly, David is an admirer of Bix and of the Wolverines, but not all is praise on his part. There are several justifiable negative comments, "The largest musical problem in the band was its other co-leader, pianist Richard Fabian "Dick" Voynow, who dragged the beat." "Tuba player Min Leibrook could be too busy-sounding during band ensembles." "The bands tempo problems persist.


The inclusion of sides by the Sioux City Six, Bix and His Rhythm Jugglers and the Original Wolverines provides a diversity to the CD, and this results, at least as far as I am concerned, in further enjoyment and appreciation of the richness and high quality of music and musicians in the 1920s.


The Presentation.


The cover of the CD is a subtly and effectively (although, in general, I confess that I am opposed to colorization) colorized version of a photograph of the Wolverine Orchestra (with Berton replacing Moore) and presages the excellent graphics included in the booklet. Photographs of people, buildings, record labels, advertisements in newspapers are found in practically every page and add to the enjoyment of the text. To me, the most astonishing images (courtesy of Duncan Shiedt) are the two snapshots of George Johnson and Jimmy Hartwell. Overall, the package design is outstanding.




The OTR CD about the Wolverines is one of the essential reissue CDs for any admirer of early Bix and of 1920s jazz. The transfers are excellent; the liner notes are highly informative and enormously stimulating as they bring in new concepts to the well-traveled Wolverine saga; the presentation is handsome and attractive. What else can we ask?



Posted on Apr 17, 2012, 8:25 AM

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