The Retrospectives series put out by the Nimbus label is a series of two-CD sets that include many of the highpoints of a jazz great’s recording career. While not having any previously unreleased performances, these reissues serve as a definitive introduction to the music of a top artist. Recently Retrospectives has put out a release featuring trombonist cornetist Rex Stewart under the title Trumpet In Spades.
Rex Stewart (1907-67) is still most famous for his work with Duke Ellington during 1934-45 and his unconventional half-valve technique which had him bending notes in a very distinctive and speechlike fashion. (However, while his twofer Trumpet In Spades has 11 selections that feature Stewart with the Ellington Orchestra, he is also heard during his earlier years with Fletcher Henderson and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, on small groups from the Ellington period, and on six numbers from 1956-59. Missing are examples of Stewart’s work during his first of two stints with Henderson, his exciting playing on “Old Man River” with Luis Russell in 1934, and his colorful recording of “Rasputin” from 1960, but those are minor reservations.
Stewart was prolific in the recording studios during his prime years and most of the highpoints are on this set. Surprisingly, the original recording of his trademark hit with Ellington, “Boy Meets Horn,” is not here but a live and more extended version from 1940 is an excellent substitute. Among the other highlights are four numbers with Henderson (including “New King Porter Stomp” and a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke on “Singin’ The Blues” that has him nearly playing Bix’s solo note-for-note), many songs from his small-group dates with Ellington’s sidemen (including “Rexatious” and “Tea And Trumpets”), an overseas session with Django Reinhardt, separate projects led by Sidney Bechet and Jack Teagarden, and later dates with Cootie Williams, trombonist Dicky Wells, and Eddie Condon.
It is a joy getting to hear so much prime Rex Stewart.
Rex Stewart • Trumpet In Spades
Retrospectives RTS 4405