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The Small Combos
tion, were all recorded in 1928 with a group that generally included Earl Hines at the piano, Zutty Singleton on drums, and sometimes Don Redman as alto saxophonist and arranger. In addition to the advantages of electric recording (many of the earlier sides, apart from their musical shortcomings, sound as though they were recorded acoustically), the pairing of Armstrong with Hines produced a team of inspired soloists who were years ahead of their time; there are occasional attempts to use as accented notes, in the exposition of a theme, what might only have been acceptable earlier as passing notes; Earl Hines* solo on It's Tight Like That holds an E for two beats against a D Minor chord. Both Earl and Louis indulge in rhythmic escapades that are, by the standards of earlier combo records, masterpieces of intricacy and subtly swinging jazz. Except for Redman's buoyant alto the occasional solos by the others are of minor interest; the group, in effect, is a framework for the virtuosity of Armstrong and Hines.
Less valuable in terms of solo talent but far more experimental in their attempts to extend the boundaries of combo jazz are the remarkable recordings begun December 1926 under the name of Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. When the first of these, That's No Bargain, was released, it caused a stir among jazz musicians comparable with the excitement aroused thirty years later by the Modern Jazz Quartet's first LP.
Among the group's innovations were the fuller integration of the drummer into the arrangement (Vic Berton made use of tym-pani for melodic percussion effects); the employment of the guitar for solo passages instead of the harsh and metallic banjo; the use of contrasts in dynamics in a field where, too often, the only previous level had been forte or fortissimo; and the more advanced sense of construction in the arrangements, by such means as the employment of two or three different harmonic sequences, changes of key, etc. There was also an element of humor clearly more mature than the animal sound effects, such as the drums* repetition of the closing phrase as a final tag in That's No Bargain. With the help of Fud Livingston and other arrangers, Nichols added new tone colors and ideas, new musicians, gradually expanding the group in scope and size until