Wiggs-Burke, Big 4 (American Music)

Wiggs-Burke, Big 4, album cover

This two-disc collection of recordings from 1952-1957 offers many pleasant surprises. The context in which the music is presented (in the liner notes Butch Thompson calls it “some kind of New Orleans jazz chamber music”) makes it all easily accessible, retaining an exciting feel.

Most of the sides are a quartet of Raymond Burke (clarinet), Johnny Wiggs (cornet), Edmond “Doc” Souchon (guitar), and Sherwood Mangiapane (bass). The songs are a varied collection of widely played standards (including “Chinatown,” “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” and “Milenburg Joys”), some less abused ditties, and some rare gems including originals by Wiggs, Burke and several others.

Other highlights include Souchon’s acoustic folky/bluesy hybrid flat-pick/finger-style approach to jazz guitar, 17 vocal renderings by Souchon (if you like that old school minstrel/riskué/husky Tom Waits charm), and, of course, Burke’s always musical, ever-inventive melodic virtuosity and marvelous tone makes repeated listening ever enjoyable.

All in all, this is a good source for “new” old material, a good model for very effective instrumentation for a recording or performing ensemble, and a wonderful collection of masterful clarinet solos by Burke.

The one downfall of this record would be that, well, it is what it is: Some of the recordings were living-room rehearsals and not polished or engineered properly. If you can get around that you’ll find a great deal of pleasure in these happy notes to last a long time.