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Earl Hines was the only pianist in the first decade of jazz who could match Louis Armstrong’s rhythmic and improvisational freedom. Although his sometime partner doesn’t appear on these recordings, we hear throughout the swaggering confidence and joie de vivre that he shared with his contemporary as he revels in the expressive resources of the music. Hines’ playing was called ‘trumpet-style’, and often involved playing in octaves, using a slight tremolo at phrase-ends to emulate a horn player’s vibrato.

On this compilation, Mosaic maintains its exceptional standards, drawing from the historic labels that recorded Hines – Okeh, Victor, Brunswick, Vocalion, Bluebird and Signature – and adding 11 previously unreleased tracks from Sony’s vaults. We hear his style on the piano evolve, while his big bands respond to the movements of fashion – including, sadly, the presence of too many rather ordinary crooners.

The dozen or so piano solo recordings, and several more with small groups, are a highlight, therefore. Solos include Rosetta, A Monday Date – both original Hines compositions that became jazz standards – and Melancholy Baby. Four solo tracks on Okeh from December 1928 include Hines’ Caution Blues, better known as Blues in Thirds, where the pianist’s left hand remains close to Harlem stride – he hasn’t yet broken out into the freer solo style of his maturity – but with more individual voicings.

The classic recordings from 1940 by the Sidney Bechet Trio, and Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, are some of the hottest jazz ever recorded, propelled by Baby Dodds on drums and featuring Rex Stewart on cornet.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing