Monday, March 14, 2011

Clarence "Jelly" Johnson "Low Down Papa"

(Delmark) I am still more impressed and baffled by player piano technology than I am by any subsequent digital innovations. And this is not me being some kind of analog luddite, I just actually can't believe that over 100 years ago somebody could play a piano and a roll of paper could record what he or she played and then you could roll it again and it would sound like that person jamming! That's like speaking into some toilet paper and then playing it back! That's better than anything your iphone does! Again, I'm not denigrating digital, the fine enhancements they seem to have done to make these 1920s "roll-cordings" by Chicago ivory ticker "Jelly" Johnson sound like he's in the room with you is 010100101-derful! (Get it? "ONE-derful") While obviously the technological miracle of a piece of paper capturing the inflections and organic warmth of one the city's greatest blues pianists is baffling, whatever space age voodoo made it sound clean, new and warm is welcome in my book. The reason it was worth gushing over these audio-documenting marvels from either side of the millennium is that unlike a scratchy, hollow sounding 78 or a thin-sounding MP3 you found online, this record really lets you hear the music, not the age or rarity or archival relevance of these songs. Tracks like the groovy "That's Your Yass, Yass, Yass," the lovely "Moanin' the Blues," the slinky "Corn Trimmers" (I'm sure whatever that means is nowhere near as perverse as I imagine...but maybe I shouldn't be so sure), and the naughty title track sound great...not important or ancient or historical or museum-ish...just great! Must be Jelly, 'cause jam don't play like that!

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