Just in time for the 2003 Bix Beiderbecke centennial, Sunbeam completes its collection of the complete Beiderbecke on three well-packed CDs. The set picks up the thread from volume three, with more marathon Paul Whiteman Orchestra
sessions spelled now and then by smaller groups fronted by Frankie Trumbauer and Beiderbecke himself, gradually declining in frequency as the doomed cornetist's health starts to give out. Whiteman
's relentless attempts to please everyone in his mass audience -- from kitschy classical arrangements to the usual bland, middle-brow crooning to bursts of reasonably hot jazz -- can be bizarre, sentimental, or audacious, often all at once. With the Trumbauer groups, Beiderbecke assumes a higher profile, and the beat acquires more of a jump and occasionally something more; "Futuristic Rhythm" really does have a shuffling rhythm decades ahead of its time. The real centerpiece of the set is the 1928 world premiere waxing of Gershwin's "Concerto in F," issued originally on Columbia's classical "Modern Music" series with quaintly colorful Whiteman picture labels. The score, alas, was heavily edited -- especially the second and third movements -- to fit on six 12" 78 RPM sides, and the composer's orchestrations were rearranged and compressed by the ubiquitous Ferde Grofe. But the recording is loaded with period flavor, and it offers proof that Whiteman's orchestra contained a complement of versatile first-class musicians. Beiderbecke claimed that his featured written-out solo in the languorous second movement was his proudest moment on record -- and well he should have been pleased; his cornet has a slightly throbbing angst and a jazzy freedom that his classically trained successors rarely catch. By the 1929 sessions, though, Beiderbecke's tone begins to lose its pristine freshness, becoming a bit coarser in texture. The 1930 recordings with Hoagy Carmichael
's bands, an outfit fronted by businessman Irving Mills
, and another with Beiderbecke in the lead are fascinating all-star gatherings, but Beiderbecke is clearly on his last legs, still capable of passages of magic yet not as sure-footed as he was only a couple of years before. For the most part, Mike Kieffer
and John R.T. Davies
achieve remarkably uniform results in their transfers, given the diverse materials they had to work with. The CD sound doesn't have as much heft and depth as do some original pressings, but it's clear and ungimmicked, minus the usual computerized noise-reduction distortions that still plague some major-label reissues. The notes paint a poignant picture of Beiderbecke's last years, but there is scant commentary on the selections themselves.