Tag Archives: art pepper

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 7 Recent Archival Releases

Darin Mercer

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Omnivore Recordings, Real Gone Music, TCB Music, Resonance Records and Concord Bicycle Music. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – Two of a Kind (Omnivore Recordings)

Founded in 2010, Omnivore Recordings is a boutique label that quickly became renowned for its thoughtful and carefully-curated reissues and archival releases; the release schedule of the Grammy-winning label reflects the impeccable taste of its head, industry veteran Cheryl Pawelski. But this project is something of a left-turn, even for the reliably eclectic Omnivore. A 1961 collaboration between one of music’s top vocalists (Darin) and one of its finest songwriters (Mercer), Two of a Kind is a swingin’ big-band affair. The two men are clearly having the time of their lives as they trade vocal lines, backed by an explosive band conducted by the inimitable Billy May. The set list is dizzyingly varied, featuring originals (“Two of a Kind”), show tunes and jazz classics. In its character, Two of a Kind is not far removed from the camaraderie of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby projects, but with a couple of helluva-lot-better singers. Get yourself a bottle of rye, some sweet vermouth; mix up some Manhattans, and sit back and enjoy this seemingly effortless musical summit.

Babs Ellington

Alice Babs & Duke Ellington – Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone Music)

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s most important composers and bandleaders; he was one of the era’s most prolific artists. His big-band work is the best-known part of his catalog, but it represents a mere fraction of his prodigious output. This 1966 album finds Ellington conducting an orchestra while Alice Babs – Sweden’s most popular singer of that era – plays the part of siren. Her ability to tackle the highest notes without betraying the slightest trace of effort is a hallmark of her work, and her deliciously clear vocal enunciation is beguiling. Some of the tunes focus on a smaller instrumental ensemble, while others make full use of the big orchestra. But the focus is always squarely on Babs’ superbly nimble (but never showy) vocals. Until this, its first-ever CD-era reissue, Serenade to Sweden was among the rarest and hard-to-find items in the catalog of either artist; Real Gone Music’s reissue features flawless remastering from Aaron Kannowski, and informative liner notes form jazz authority Scott Yanow.

Rollins Silver

Sonny Rollins Trio & Horace Silver Quartet – Zurich 1959 (TCB Music)

The latest entry in TCB’s “Swiss Radio Days” Jazz Series, Zurich 1959 highlights one set each from Rollins’ trio (with Henry Grimes on bass, and drummer Pete La Roca) and pianist Silver’s quintet (Blue Mitchell on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and the inimitable Louis Hayes on drums), recorded at Radio Studio Zurich on March 5, 1959. The sound is superb – those postwar Europeans demonstrated a keen skill at recording jazz – and it should go without saying that both bands perform beautifully. Rollins’ group turns in lovely, uptempo readings of standard including “I Remember You,” and Rollins’ original tune, “Oleo.” Silver’s quintet is exotic and assured on five originals from its bandleader. All the players are on fire, but Mitchell and Hayes are perhaps even a notch or two above their band mates on this blowing sessions.

Three Sounds

The Three Sounds – Groovin’ Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance Records)

The title of this set is perhaps a tad misleading: while Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and – depending on the track – Bill Dowdy, Kalil Madi or Carl Burnett on drums play with skill, finesse and power, this set leans more toward assured understatement than fiery soul-jazz readings. The Three Sounds were together 1956-73, and these archival recordings date from the middle-period (and arguably creative height) of the group, 1964-68. As was often the case, the trio’s sound was best documented live in front of an audience, and this collection – curated by Zev Feldman, perhaps current day’s most important jazz archivist – is no exception. The interplay between the players borders on the telepathic; the music is at once loose and free yet meticulously arranged. Without a doubt, the highlight of this stellar set is “Blue Genes,” with Harris’ deft piano work at its center.

Pepper

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (Omnivore Recordings)

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 2: Pete Jolly (Omnivore Recordings)

The estate of alto and tenor saxophonist Art Pepper is responsible for bringing these long-unheard recordings back to light. Led by Pepper’s widow Laurie, and working with Omnivore, a series of the man’s sessions are receiving thoughtful reissue in the 21st century. These volumes are perhaps the most intriguing of what’s come out of the project so far: dates recorded in and around 1980, but featuring players from 1950s jazz. Happily, there’s absolutely nothing “80s” about these sessions other than their recording date. Because Pepper was under contract to Atlantic at the time, these recordings – originally issued on the small Atlas label – don’t feature him as official bandleader, but make no mistake: he’s in charge. The Stitt sessions are spread across two discs, and bring together recordings originally released on three separate albums, adding three previously unheard tracks. The Pete Jolly sessions are a single-disc set, and feature two alternate takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues.” Booklets include not only short essays from Laurie Pepper, but also diagrams depicting the studio instrument setup for the recordings. Both sets are essential for fans of 1950s jazz.

Evans

The Bill Evans Trio – On a Monday Evening (Concord Bicycle Music)

Bill Evans was one of the most distinctive pianists in all of music; his command of the keyboard was such that to the untrained listener, his sound seemed to be that of two different musicians. His left and right hand often seemed to operate completely separate from one another, yet they were always musically connected. The revered pianist was at his best in the context of a trio, and this 1976 recording captures him onstage with drummer Eliot Zigmund and longtime associate Eddie Gomez on upright bass. The monaural recording made at Madison, Wisconsin’s Union Theatre has never been bootlegged, so this vinyl (and CD, and digital) release marks its debut. Typical of an Evans set, the album is a mixture of originals and readings of contemporary tunes. The sound is superb, the performances are flawless, and the vinyl edition is pressed on 180g and comes in a sturdy gatefold sleeve.

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Bill Kopp is the Blurt Jazz Desk editor. You can bug him directly at his most excellent music blog, Musoscribe.

 

 

Bill Kopp / The Blurt Jazz Desk: New Archival Releases

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Thank you, Zev Feldman, of the Resonance and Elemental labels. Examined: Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, João Gilberto & Getz, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Art Pepper.

BY BILL KOPP, BLURT JAZZ DESK EDITOR

Lovers of the classic era in jazz and/or modern jazz owe a debt of gratitude to Zev Feldman. The head of a pair of modern-day jazz labels (Resonance and Elemental) has been exceedingly busy of late, rescuing heretofore unheard recordings of great historical import. Kicking off with a bang a mere four years ago, Feldman unearthed a cache of Wes Montgomery recordings, and released them as Echoes of Indiana Avenue. At the time, the source tapes for that set were thought to be the earliest extant recordings of the acclaimed jazz guitarist. But in 2015 Resonance roared back with In the Beginning, a 2CD set of even more (and even earlier) Montgomery.

Other projects have included a remarkable Bill Evans Trio recording from Greenwich Village (Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate) and a John Coltrane set, Offering: Live at Temple University. The latter earned liner note essayist Ashley Kahn a Grammy award.

But the last several months have seen a flurry of activity from Feldman’s labels that suggests those early successes were merely warm-ups. No less than seven (actually eight) archival releases – all featuring previously-unheard music – have been released by Resonance or Elemental.

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Sarah Vaughan – Live at Rosy’s

The celebrated jazz singer was in her mid-fifties at the time of this recording, taped in New Orleans for an NPR broadcast in May 1978. At the time, Vaughan was enjoying something of a renaissance. Stephen Sondheim‘s “Send in the Clowns” – a reading of which is included on this 2CD set of mostly standards – had become Vaughan’s signature tune. “Sassy” Vaughan had built her reputation fronting big bands, but here she takes a totally different approach form her earlier work. With a spare band – piano, bass and drums – the focus here is wholly on Vaughan and her voice. Because this recording was professionally made for radio broadcast, the sound quality is quite good. The accompanying booklet is generous with both vintage photos and interview content.

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Wes Montgomery – One Night in Indy

Zev Feldman clearly has a thing for the work of Wes Montgomery, and who can blame him? His brief but informative liner note essay tells the story of how he came to release this CD of a 1959 open reel recording. Even with Feldman’s understated description of event, readers will get a sense of the thrill he experienced. And the recording is of more than historical import: playing with The Eddie Higgins Trio, the focus her is squarely on Montgomery’s already fully-developed technique. Those who bemoan his later A&M and Verve outings into reading of pop will appreciate this six-song set of tunes from the songbooks of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Neal Hefti and more. Sound quality is simply superb for what was clearly an unofficial recording.

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Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest

Here’s a rare treat. Bill Evans was quite prolific in his day, but until now there have been no studio recordings of his short-lived lineup of his Trio featuring bassist Eddie Gomez (Scott LaFaro‘s different but superb replacement), and drummer extraordinaire Jack DeJohnette. These recordings were overseen by MPS head Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, the so-called “man from the Black Forest.” As with virtually all recordings made at MPS Studios, the music lives and breathes on this recording. Based on the customary run time of albums at the time these recordings were made (June 1968), had this material been released, it likely would have been spread across two or perhaps three record albums. There’s but one breakdown (“It’s All Right with Me”) and one alternate take (“You’re gonna Hear From Me”). Otherwise it’s all new material, a mix of standards. Some tracks feature the Trio; some are duos, and a few feature Evans alone at the piano. Five days prior to this session, the Trio was in Montreux, Switzerland, performing at the annual jazz festival. Feldman’s brief essay reveals the back story of these tapes, and other essays (from critics, Gomez and DeJohnette) provide all the context one could ever wish for.

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Stan Getz Quartet – Moments in Time

The first of two releases chronicling tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s May 1976 residency at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, this is a thrilling single-disc collection of live music by Getz and his three sidepeople (Joanne Brackeen, piano; Clint Houston, bass; Billy Hart, drums). Superb song selection and even better musicianship are the dual highlights of this timeless set, which sounds (stylewise) as if it could have been recorded any time between the late 1950s and the following three decades. Again, our intrepid jazz archivist Zev Feldman tells the story of how he found these tapes and brought them to current-day listeners. His Q&A with drummer Billy Hart – and a short note from Getz’s son Steve – round out a nice booklet that also contains some good live performance photos. Apparently some “sound restoration” took place on these tapes, but by the sound of them, you’d never know the CDs weren’t sourced from pristine pro tapes stored in some climate-controlled vault for forty-plus years.

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João Gilberto & Stan Getz – Getz/Gilberto ’76

The provenance of these recordings is the same as the above title, and the lineup is the same, with the addition of Brazilian vocalist and guitar sensation João Gilberto, he of “Girl From Ipanema” fame and so much more. The program here is give over almost wholly to Gilberto’s original material (no “Ipanema”) and similar material. By its very nature, this material is far more subdued than the Monents in Time set, and – other than some nice sax solos – Getz’s band rarely takes the spotlight. Feldman includes another whole interview’s worth of conversation with drummer Hart for this set.

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Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at The Village Vanguard

Few would make the case that big band jazz was anywhere near its peak in the mid 1960s. But likely you couldn’t tell that to bandleader Jones and drummer Lewis; this set finds the big band playing like their lives depended on it. There’s a swinging vibe that – while not exactly loose – feels miles away from the stiff arrangements and readings sometimes associated with large jazz orchestras. The material is built upon a repertoire of standards, yet has the energetic vibe of Buddy Rich‘s pop-leaning shows of the same era. For this set, Feldman made the unusual decision to package the CDs and book in a larger-than-standard case; apparently this engendered complaints and backlash from OCD-leaning consumers who need their CD sets to be either standard size or a box set (a point of view I appreciate), so he’s vowed not to do it again. That issue aside, this is a wonderful set of music in a lovely package.

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Art Pepper – Live at Fat Tuesday’s

Heading in more dissonant and wild direction than most of the other titles discussed here, this live recording of a 1981 concert in New Your City focuses on material that lends itself to ambitious interpretations: Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” is the best example. And when they slow it down, as on Gordon Jenkins‘ “Goodbye,” thee band shows off their skills in a different manner. Zev Feldman’s in-depth interview with the saxophonist’s widow Laurie Pepper forms the backbone of a characteristically excellent liner note booklet. This is little more than conjecture on my part, but perhaps the reason this title is released on Elemental (as opposed to Resonance, under the umbrella of the not-for-profit organization Rising Jazz Stars) may have to do with Pepper’s estate owning the material. Omnivore Recordings has also released several Pepper titles over the last year or so.

Note that another title, jazz organist Larry Young‘s In Paris: The ORTF Recordings has also been released recently by Resonance; a review copy was not available at the time of this writing.

The release schedule for Feldman’s labels would be impressive by the standards of a mid-sized record label; that these releases come form a tiny label specializing in jazz, and a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization at that – is truly remarkable. Tantalizingly, and judging by Feldman’s regular Facebook dispatches from locations across the globe, there’s every reason to suspect more jazz treasures will be revealed in the near future.

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Bill Kopp is a music journalist, editor of Musoscribe.com, and editor of BLURT‘s newly-launched jazz desk. He has written liner notes for several jazz reissues, including Cannonball Adderley‘s The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free and Music, You All, both due out in May.