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V/A - Dope And Glory: Reefer Songs Of '30s & '40s Jazz

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Artist: V/A

Album: Dope And Glory: Reefer Songs Of '30s & '40s Jazz

Label: Trikont

Review date: Jun. 29, 2002

As dragging on a charge has never been as troublesome or habit-forming as hitting the sauce, the bhang will never inspire the deluge of musical tributes that booze does. Circa now, the gage that's the rage is about as mainstream as softcore porn. It's still frowned upon, but impossible to avoid for anyone remotely extroverted. No longer a big deal. Part of the scene and the scenery.

'Twasn't always thus. In the former half of the 20th Century, as jazz culture got cooking, America and Mary Jane were still exchanging guarded introductions. If pie-eyed neophytes occasionally found themselves more paranoid than they'd planned on as they gingerly embraced Acapulco Gold, the feds were truly wigging out, portraying drug fans and distributors as brainless, heartless zombies, stripped of their sobriety, diligence, thrift and self-mastery and set on taking as many down with them as time and stash would allow. (See the tragicomic classic Reefer Madness.) As capitalism and debauchery proceeded from flirtation to full-tilt codependency, the media needed a patsy. The dew was scapegoated for political reasons outside the scope of, uh, a record review, let's say that's what established the spliff's furtive aura.

Poring over these jazz sides now, one gets hep to the mixed emotions that fogged up the tea pad as youngsters of all sorts got their first blast. Seasoned vipers such as Fats Waller and Cab Calloway pay dap to the dealer, as the party starts swingin' and the panties drop as he darkens the door. Julia Lee didn't much like the "spinach" when she first tried it, but now it's all she wants to know about. Chick Webb openly tokes on jabooby to fend off depression. Jean Brady and Yack Taylor (on their respective versions of the vigorously depressing "Knockin' Myself Out") break out the matchbox as part of an abysmal, post-breakup self-destruction streak ("That's why I'm knockin' myself out/Yeah, I'm killin' myself/I knock myself out/Gradually/By degrees"), which, tellingly, also involves alcohol. And on the opposite side of the room, Mezz Mezzrow & His Swing Band play a counting game that wouldn't be quite worthwhile without at least a brisk contact buzz. For less abstract guffaws, take a toke on Buck Washington's side-splitting "Save The Roach For Me," one of the dopest gems in the jewelry box.

If you think this archive is little more than a novelty to break up mixed CDRs while you're messin' around, well, I suppose that's keen, jelly bean. But, if you're after some hot old jazz and the Panama Red theme is secondary at best, well, you too are in luck. These tunes uniformly swing, and somehow sound a lot crisper than most of the grimy garage and psychedelic reissues your pedestrian pot-puffer prefers. There's hot jive, infectious boogie woogie and plenty of slow drags. Perfect for your next crosstown crawl, whether you're holding or not. And one of the many, many cherry good, amusingly esoteric collections our pals at Trikont are hawking.

By Emerson Dameron

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