Jimmy Blythe - Messin' Around Blues
Review By Willard Manus

Some serious record collectors will know about Jimmy Blythe, who back in the heyday of Chicago jazz (the 1920s) was a multi-talented and much-recorded piano player and band leader (Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong were among his sidemen). Blythe also accompanied such illustrious singers as Ma Rainey, Viola Bartlette and The Hokum Boys, but he was best known for his piano-roll prowess.

Also known as nickelodeon or music rolls, these early versions of lp records were aimed at both the home and coin-operated markets. Millions of them were sold between 1890 and the 1930s. Some of the rolls contained but a single tune, others offered ten or more. Blythe (and other pianists like Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton) sat at a specially equipped recording piano and played on a master cylinder which captured sound and tempo far better than did the 78 rpm records of the era.

Now Delmark has released an album featuring Blythe working his way through nineteen tunes that were first issued on the Echoes--then Euphonic--labels. Restored and remastered by Robert G. Koester and Frank L. Himpsl, JIMMY BLYTHE--MESSIN' AROUND BLUES sounds as fresh and appealing today as it did eighty years ago, when Blythe worked his way through such favorites as A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Underworld Blues, not to speak of such original compositions as Forty Blues and My Baby.

As the CD shows, Blythe was a remarkable talent but he died tragically young at the age of thirty and his name slipped into obscurity. Thanks to Delmark, though, Blythe has now been given some of the recognition he so richly deserves as an early master of the blues piano.

Delmark has also released BRAD GOODE--NATURE BOY. Jazz trumpeter Goode, whose previous Delmark CDs were Down Beat, Hypnotic Suggestion and Shock of the New, was a longtime fixture on the Chicago scene, having led the house band at The Green Mill for many years and gigged with Eddie Harris, Lee Konitz and James Moody. Then he took a job as jazz studies professor at the University of Colorado. Last year he went into a Denver studio and recorded NATURE BOY, which features Goode along with pianist Jeff Jenkins, drummer Todd Reid and bassist Joahannes Weidenmuller.

Goode picked the title tune because, as he explains in a liner note, "I became enchanted by this haunting tune as a teenager, after hearing the original Nate King Cole recording." Faced with the challenge of trying to convey the depth and beauty of the lyrics in an instrumental version, he tried to learn everything he possibly could about the tune so that "he could sing it through his horn."

Goode's thoughtful, dedicated approach to playing jazz is reflected in all twelve of the numbers on the CD. Again, here is how he approaches each song, regardless of whether it's a standard or an original: "I try to make my mind a blank, save for lyric and mood. What happens thereafter is a series of freely associated thoughts, some proactive and some reactive to the suggestions of the rhythm section. I do not focus my conscious mind on details; there is no need for that. I have studied the song as thoroughly as possible, and now I must trust in that training as I attempt to play from the unconscious mind."

If that sounds a bit didactic, be assured that Goode's playing is anything but that. On the contrary, his lyrical, deeply felt approach to jazz radiates warmth and beauty, especially when he uses the mute. Goode also knows how and when to swing, how to make make tunes like All Through the Night and Just in Time soar and dance. He also plays three originals on this unusual and highly recommended disc.