The ‘Eddie Lang: selected works 1926-1932’ it’s not a commercially available Cd. It’s a compilation I made in Flac format, choosing sides that, in my opinion, are among the highlights of the ‘founder of jazz guitar’. Salvatore Massaro (his real name), son of Italian immigrants, was born in the U.S.A. in 1902. Thanks to his talent and his stylistic innovations, he ‘reinvented’ the role of guitar in early jazz. Even if other guitarists, especially among black players, had already brought the instrument to an high level of virtuosity (Lonnie Johnson as best example), in the 20’s the guitar was mainly seen as a part of the rhythm section, with very rare opportunities to get solo spots. Eddie Lang invented a new guitar style, which included not only rhythmic comping but also single note solos, counter melodies to the soloist, bass lines runs, arpeggios and solo breaks or intros. After hearing his first recordings (with Mound City Blue Blowers or Red McKenzie), a whole generation of banjo players switched to the guitar. In a few years, Lang became not only the N.1 guitar player in jazz but also one of the most busy studio musicians of that era. This because Eddie Lang was, before everything else, an absolutely complete musician, with a superlative ear and an attitude devoted to the final musical result, without any wish to ‘show off’. Even if he had all the possible chops (as witnessed by some fast runs in some intro or breaks), he always preferred to play the ‘right thing’ that could lift the musical level of the whole song or emphasize the soloist’s ideas. Besides that, no one else, during that time could cover such a wide stylistic range: Lang could play everything, from jazz and blues to waltzes and classical music (he adapted for guitar and recorded Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op.3,No.2 in 1927; he also used to play Debussy’s compositions but unfortunately never recorded them).
The eighteen tracks of this compilation witness Eddie Lang’s art and style. Briefly, some of their peculiarities:
Track 1 – Stringing the bluesEddie Lang and Joe Venuti: the perfect pair. Friends since childhood, they had a telepathic musical interplay and a terrific swing. Their duo recordings (sometime backed by piano) are milestones of early jazz.
Track 2 – Singing’ the blues
An excellent example of Lang’s ability to create great counter melodies under the soloist.
Track 3 – Goin’ placesAs track 1, but the presence of a (quite inaudible) piano comping lets Lang more free to create bass runs and breaks. A very good example of Lang’s great technique.
Track 4 – Wringin’ an’ twistin’
As track 2 but here we have also Lang soloing in single notes, with his typical ‘trumpet’ inspired lines. Notice his ending.
Track 5 – The wild dog
Eddie Lang is the backbone of the whole quintet here, a real swing machine that allows Venuti’s flight.
Track 6 & 7 – Rainbow dreams – Add a little wiggle
Eddie Lang in full evidence on these tracks, backed with elegance by pianist Frank Signorelli.
Track 8 - No more
As said before, Lang was one of the busiest studio musician of his era. This meant for him to work with anybody, sometimes real jazz stars like Bix or Satchmo, sometimes more obscure players. Being a real professional, Lang’s musical work was of a constantly high level. Here it’s quite hard to stand Boyd Senter’s lines but Lang’s comping and single-note solo is one of his best ever.
Track 9 & 10 – Doin’ things – Wild catSame as track 3. ‘Wild cat’ is a killer!
Track 11 – It’s right here for you
Three sides of Lang in one tune: at first rhythmic chordal work and counter melody under the soloist, then a single note solo and in the end stellar rhythmic chordal work again.
Track 12 – Wild geese blues
Rarely a white musician has absorbed the real blues essence like Lang did. He was so good that blues singers very often wanted him for their recording sessions. This is an example of Lang’s blues comping work, backing singer Gladys Bentley.
Track 13 – Knocking a jugSatchmo here: this track is jazz history and could not be missing here but (i.m.h.o.) Lang’s bluesy solo is a little ‘lazier’ than his standard level.
Track 14 – Kitchen man
Still the blues side of Eddie Lang, here with Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams. A masterpiece.
Track 15 – Hot fingers
Eddie Lang & Lonnie Johnson: the sides recorded by this duo are among the things that make life beautiful. Originally issued (for racial reasons) as Lonnie Johnson & Blind Willie Dunn, very rarely guitar duos have reached, since then, such an extraordinary level of swing (for one exception to this, see track 18).
Track 16 & 17 – Runnin’ ragged – Sweet Sue, just you
Here, track 16 is a good example of how much Lang’s rhythmic drive could be fundamental for the good result of a session, while track 17 contains one of Lang’s best ‘single note-trumpet inspired’ solos of the last years of his career.
Track 18 – Pickin’ my way
As said in track 15, very rarely guitar duos have reached the level of Lang & Johnson. One exception to this is here: Eddie Lang and Carl Kress. Together, they recorded only two sides which are true masterpieces of jazz guitar. More complex in the structure and less bluesy than L&J ones, but nevertheless swinging like mad.
Eddie Lang’s life ended when he was only 31 year old, for complications following a tonsillectomy.
This compilation is dedicated to his great talent and artistry.