Perhaps the most rarefied release in Prestige’s new string of limited edition reissues, this disc gathers three incredibly scarce ten-inch recordings by vibraphonist Teddy Charles. Each of the sessions collected provides a stimulating glimpse into realms of experimentation often overlooked by jazz fans and historians alike. Charles was one of the most active members of a small fraternity of jazz musicians whose innovations during the early 1950s presaged the “Third Stream” and modal experiments that transpired later in the decade at the hands of more well-known proponents like Miles Davis and John Lewis. Modernists like Jimmy Giuffre and Gil Melle were also among those who trafficked these kinds of quieter chamber-jazz sonorities. The lesser prestige afforded these players points plainly to fact that they were clearly ahead of their time.
The opening session finds Charles in a trio setting which emulates the better known Red Norvo trio in instrumentation, but not in sound. A vibrant sense of modernism informs these creative readings of standards and Charles makes full use of the motor on his instrument to craft a luminous sound. Reference his breakneck mallet runs on “Ol’ Man River” for evidence of both his skill and imagination. Roberts and O’Brien offer thoughtful support and frequently devise carefully conceived solos of their own. The second session comprising only four tracks finds Charles in the company of the forward-thinking Raney whose string sculptures provide an ideal counterpoint while encouraging even greater improvisational interplay. On “Nocturne” modern classical elements mingle with a modal melancholy to produce a jazz phrasing very different from the norm of the day. The lengthy reading of “A Night in Tunisia” is especially revisionary and finds Charles doubling on bongos and building in tandem with Shaughnessy’s brittle traps for an explosively percussive finale.
The final four tracks document Charles’ most fruitful collaborations with the pianist Hall Overton, one of his most influential mentors. Overton’s musical approach was grounded not only in jazz improvisation, but also favored a strong affinity for modern classical composition and his poly-tonal leanings color the trio’s sound in a decidedly avant-garde manner. Capitalizing on the trio’s inclusion of dissonant sonic segments Charles also takes the opportunity to integrate other mallet-based instruments into his repertoire including marimba, xylophone and glockenspiel, all of which add further textures to the group’s futurist sound. Organized as they are on this disc these three sessions illustrate an audible progression in the evolution of Charles’ sound from his beginning flirtations with new approaches to jazz composition and improvisation to a full fledged embrace of non-traditional techniques and structures. The disc as a whole points a firm finger at the overlooked reality that strong sense of experimentalism was alive and well in jazz circles in the early 50s. Furthermore it offers proof that Charles and his colleagues were among of the chief exponents of the fledgling innovations that foreshadowed the revolutions in music a few years later.