Album Review: Bunk Johnson — Rare & Unissued Masters Volume One

Bunk Johnson was a New Orleans jazz trumpeter who exemplified the pre-war jazz style closer to Louis Armstrong than, say, Miles Davis. Though the style was well past the apex of its popularity, it remained (and remains) of significant historical interest. And so in 1943, ’44 and ’45, folklorist Bill Russell embarked on a mission to document examples that early jazz.

One subject of his search was Johnson. Using non-union musicians, Russell captured Johnson and his sidemen in a variety of contexts: a music hall, a living room, a back yard. The results are of surprisingly high sonic quality. Three 10″ LPs were released on Russell’s American Music. Johnson had of course recorded before, and would continue to record though the end of 1947 (he died in 1949).

The 2LP set released by Org Music in connection with Record Store Day 2018 features “rare and unissued” material from those sessions. Sixteen tunes spread across two translucent blue records captures Johnson in top form, with various lineups, and on one track (“Good Morning Blues”), vocalist Myrtle Jones.

The songs on this set draw from the more well-known jazz songbook, and include a number of standards and traditional songs. Spirited readings of Scott Joplin’s”Maple Leaf Rag” and the hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” are highlights of the set. But occasional pop songs find their way into the proceedings, such as Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Trevor Richards’ excellent liner notes are a highly welcome component of this album of historically significant recordings.

This review is part of a week-long series covering new vinyl releases and/or reissues, including titles scheduled for special release on Record Store Day 2018, this coming Saturday (April 21). Please support your local independent record store.