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7671Frog Spawn - a first opinion

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  • armstark2000
    Sep 11 6:38 AM
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      Yesterday, I received my copy of the latest Frog release, DGF 71, "Frog Spawn - the First Batch". My first opinion is contained below. Just in case, I'd like to point out that I have no interest in Frog apart from their continued existence to provide us with quality reissues.

      Michael Rader

      There are collectors who very much dislike multiple-artist compilations, especially when they unite artists as disparate as Dicky Wells' Shim Shammers and Matson's Lucky Seven as Frog 71 does. In fact the Penguin Guide by Messrs. Morton and Cook leaves them out altogether.
      This issue is headlined "Frog Spawn – the First Batch" (try saying that out aloud and you will see that it has hidden sales potential among buyers hoping to find clandestinely included graphics files, known as "Easter Eggs" in the earlier days of CD technology). While other Frog CDs have been compilations they were tied together by a common theme, mainly geographical provenance, but the Frog Spawn series are conceived to complement existing "complete" works, fill in gaps left by other CDs or to provide a home for orphaned sessions which do not fit sensibly into other, more consistent, compilations.
      That said, this is a very entertaining program in its own right, much like a listening session among collectors displaying their rarities or a radio show, reminiscent of 1970s LPs on the Historical, Harrison and Jazum labels. In fact, some of the one-off sides saw their first reissue on such labels: the William (Buster) Bailey trio (one side on a Historical LP of Hot Clarinets), Matson's Lucky Seven (first a Rarities EP, then on a Gannet LP), the Blue Rhythm Orchestra (a VJM LP of Clarence Williams odds and ends). The Bailey and Blue Rhythm Orchestra –which has Bailey as clarinettist – also made it onto CD, dubbed from the LPs for 4 out of 5 tracks, and in abysmal audio quality – the Baileys on Chronological Classics, which additionally had the problem of combining these mid-1920s sides with swing-era recordings with what was to evolve into the John Kirby Sextet.
      In the category of gap-fillers for otherwise complete chronological surveys, we find the missing Oliver Victors, the Earl Hines 1929 "Beau Koo Jack", Tom Morris "The Mess" and tests of three Eubie Blake Victors in alternative versions completing Frog CDs. Two sides by Fletcher Henderson, a very hot "Clarinet Marmalade" featuring solo work by Tom Ladnier and Buster Bailey, and the Dixie Stompers' "Hi Diddle Diddle" add to comprehensive reissues on Timeless. I believe that there is another take of the Dixie Stompers' "Jackass Blues" which has still not made it onto CD, although it was reissued on a Parlophone LP – material for another batch of Spawn?
      This kind of material is bound to please collectors familiar with the more common versions of these sides for the differences, which in some cases are quite subtle, but in others like the Henderson "Marmalade", quite noticeable
      The Texas Blues Destroyers, comprising only Bubber Miley and Arthur Ray on what was thought to be a "reed organ", but now suspected to be an accordion, have been discussed recently on the Red Hot Jazz mailing list. The two sides included here are the Vocalion version missing from the EPM Hot and Sweet New York Horns compilation, although that is probably now hard to get. The Paul Davis "Black and Tan Fantasy" falls into the "sleeper" category and has had a previous reissue on a Harrison LP. Booklet note writer Richard Rains points out that it is uncertain whether this was, as usually thought, a white band.
      A prize of this CD is an alternative version of Frankie Franko's "Golden Lily Blues", which features the trumpet and singing of Punch Miller who recorded all too seldom during the twenties. Surprisingly, the Frankos never made it onto EP during the era when there were series issued by the major labels.
      The remaining sides all saw previous reissue in some form or another. As I've mentioned before, one of the Buster Baileys was reissued on a Historical LP and must have left many people wondering about its session mate. When it made it onto the Chronological Classics CD, it was in really terrible sound quality. On my sole visit to Frog's late owner, David French, I asked him to play the record for me and was so impressed that I asked for its reissue. David would have been willing to oblige, but didn't know what else to put with it. He later sent me a cassette dub which I treasured and even transferred to CD, but now we at last have it on CD and in wonderful sound.
      Matson's Lucky Seven are part of the small output of Charles Matson, so we can ask why it has been included here instead of an issue devoted at least partly to Matson. At a guess, I would think the others are foreseen for a forthcoming Frog release devoted to cornetist Bernie Young. The personnel on the Lucky Seven is largely unidentified – probably they include several New York musicians who visited the studios more than once. The Troy Harmonists and Jackson & his Southern Stompers were previously on a GAPS LP devoted to 1920s big bands. The Jackson is almost certainly by the Charlie Johnson Orchestra of the period with such luminaries as Sidney de Paris, Jimmy Harrison and Benny Waters in attendance. It comes from a 7 inch recording not known to exist before a box containing 12 mint copies was discovered in Paris. Despite the 7 inch format these are full-length recordings on a par with the remainder of Johnson's output.
      Finally, Dicky Wells' Shim Shammers have nothing whatever to do with the trombonist, but are a kind of "spasm" group, recorded some time after the rest of the items on the CD. Reissued in the past as part of a box set on Columbia/CBS, these start off sounding rather like a late twenties/early thirties Ellington number interpreted by a washboard band with strong string bass and a guitar solo reminiscent of Lonnie Johnson or Teddy Bunn. A "nice tune" and the only one out of six recordings made at a session to see the light of day. Another case of "what else to put with it" which is partly a result of post LP-era thinking – the original recordings were, of course, bought one at a time and also seldom heard in complete chronological sequence.
      In common with other recent Frog CDs, these have been restored by RHJ list member Nick Dellow. CD producers have in recent years been worried by the void left through John R.T. Davies' passing. Like its Canadian contemporary; Jazz Oracle, Frog called in John's favourite pupil, Ted Kendall to do restoration work. More recently, Ted, who also works on improving CEDAR technology, has come in for criticism for deviating from John RT's ideals – in particular introducing a clinical digital sound with attendant destruction of "air", which was all-important to John. A direct comparison of the same tracks restored by John and Ted does indeed show that Ted has not always been able to improve on John's work, admirable as his efforts may be on their own merits.
      Nick first came to my attention with his two-part interview of John in VJM. The first restoration effort I bought was a Retrieval CD by Danny Polo, which was fine indeed, but draws on better-recorded 1930s material which is also probably closer to his own interests than, say, Chicago South Side Music from gritty originals. His earliest work for Frog was the CD by the Missourians and related groups and the quality is best appreciated on the earlier sides. The "King Mutt" issue had me a little worried due to strange noises in the background of certain passages (maybe the mandolin, but then I'm not familiar with the originals), but I am pleased to report that Nick has worked very well and fully in John RT's spirit with the numbers included in Frog Spawn – the First Batch.
      The time will probably come when you can buy these a track at a time from Amazon, but the current asking price of ten pounds is only a fraction of what it would cost to obtain only a single record included in the CD. By purchasing the CD, you will be helping Frog to produce further high-quality issues of rare material that hasn't been restored since the days of the LP or has never been heard except by a select handful of collectors.
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