COMPOSERS: The Red Heads
PERFORMER: THE RED HEADS
CATALOGUE NO: 1267
From the LP era onwards, the task of documenting jazz on record has often fallen to so-called independent labels. The grand marques of Blue Note, Verve and Pacific Jazz may be under major-label jurisdiction now, but they started out as indies, and today the bulk of jazz recording is done under the auspices of the hundreds of entrepreneurs who went into the business primarily because they loved the music.
One area which major labels often curate is that of reissues: having built up whole catalogues through label acquisitions, they can pick and choose from them as they wish. Yet an endless parade of Stan Getz and Louis Armstrong compilations suggests that here, too, there is a paucity of imagination at work, and there is now an unspoken opinion at the majors that barring an occasional Billie Holiday edition, none of the jazz recorded prior to the LP era is any longer worth reissuing.
Too bad that this leaves out a vast area of magnificent music. Still, since it’s all out of copyright, here again the indies have stepped in. Classics is a label which has built a formidable list of 78-era reissues, and one enterprising example is THE RED HEADS’s 1925-1927.
These are the Pathé sessions featuring two of the principal stalwarts of New York jazz in the Twenties, Red Nichols and Miff Mole. Twenty-five tracks of spick-and-span, rococo improvising in this faintly feckless idiom may seem like a resource for historians only, yet taken a few tracks at a time the sound of Nichols and his cohorts is oddly agreeable, cultivated to a unique degree. It might seem of midget significance next to the Armstrong Hot Fives, but it’s no less distinctive for all that.