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The work of Oliver Nelson (1932-1975), saxophonist, composer and arranger (including composing orchestral and chamber music in non-jazz idioms), is remembered in this typically classy Mosaic six-CD set of 1962-1967 sessions. In his liner notes Nelson scholar and saxophonist and composer/arranger Kenny Berger observes, "The recordings in this set were made from the mid to late period of the last golden age of the studio recording in New York.
Nelson's experience as a jazz soloist himself made him the perfect arranger for such other soloists as Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Hodges and Louis Armstrong on his classic recording of "What A Wonderful World. He arranged the first big band records for Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery and his own recording career began at a mere nineteen with the Louis Jordan Big Band.
This is a richly varied collection. A frequently performed Nelson jazz composition is "Miss Fine, heard here with a lyrical solo by Joe Newman. Many of the sides feature Phil Woods (alto sax, clarinet) who was a Nelson mainstay. "Paris Blues, the title tune from Duke Ellington's score for a 1960s movie, features Romeo Penque and Stan Webb stating the opening theme in unison on English horns in Nelson's singular way of introducing piquant colors into a jazz setting. There's more of that with Leonard Bernstein's "Cool, which receives an all-star wall-of-brass reading in a 1963 performance that includes Joe Newman (trumpet), Clark Terry (trumpet and flugelhorn), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone) and both Nelson and Woods (alto saxophones) with expert comping from Jim Hall (guitar). Nelson's orchestrating wit is delightfully evident in a 1966 session with Jimmy Smith, Peter and the Wolf, and for undulating, multi-colored rhythms there's a jumping 1966 session with Smith and Wes Montgomery.
An unusual piece, "The Kennedy Dream further demonstrates the broad range of Nelson's composing and orchestrating talents. Written in tribute to the memory of John F. Kennedy, it has elements of big band jazz although part of the piece was written for a string and woodwind-based studio orchestra. All but one of the tracks begins with recorded excerpts from Kennedy's best-known speeches. "A Genuine Peace has a waltz theme which segues into a brassy jazz feel that strongly recalls "Greensleeves, followed by another Phil Woods driving solo on "The Rights of All. "Day in Dallas evolves from an ominous start into ballad mode and then becomes a dirge. Throughout these passages Nelson utilizes harmonic devices uncommon in a jazz setting that create an inner tension, with exemplary work again by Woods and Jerome Richardson and Jerry Dodgion (reeds). In sum it's a tour de force of Nelson's mastery as composer and orchestrator.
Mosaic has again done us a service by celebrating a neglected artist of great musical ability.
Track Listing: CD1: Full Nelson; Skookian; Miss Fine; Majorca; Cool; Back Woods; Lila's Theme; Ballad for Benny; Hoe Down; Paris Blues; What Kind of Fool Am I?; You Love But Once; Hobo Flats; Post No Bills; A Bientot; Three Plus One; Take Me With You; Daylie's Double; Teenie's Blues; Laz-ie Katie. CD2: St. Louis Blues; I Remember Bird; Ricardo's Dilemma; Patterns for Orchestra; East Side; West Side; Greensleeves; John Brown's Blues; Twelve Tone Blues; A Typical Day In New York; The East Side/West Side; 125th and Seventh Avenue; A Penthouse Dawn; One For Duke; Complex City. CD3:
Roll 'em; For Dancers Only; Sophisticated Swing; Sometimes I'm Happy; Lined With A Groove; Lazy Theme; Now Hear My Meaning; In A Crowd; Sound Piece for Jazz Orchestra; Flute Salad; The Lady From Girl Talk. CD4: Let The Word Go Forth; A Genuine Peace; The Rights of All; Tolerance; The Artists' Rightful Place; Jacqueline; Day in Dallas; John Kennedy Memory Waltz; Love Is Just Around The Corner; This Is It; Memories of You; Pee Wee's Blues; The Shadow of Your Smile; Ja-Da; A Good Man Is Hard To Find; Bopol; I'm Comin' Virginia; Six and Four. CD5: Walk On The Wild Side; Ol' Man River; In A Mellow Tone; Step Right Up; Hobo Flats; Blueberry Hill; Walk Right In; Trouble In Mind; The Preacher; Meditation; I Can't Stop Loving You; Slaughter on Tenth Avenue; Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff; Part One; Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff; Part Two. CD6: The Bird/The Duck/The Cat/The Grandfather/The Wolf/The Hunter/Peter; Duck Theme/Jimmy and the Duck/Peter's Theme/Meal Time; Elegy For A Duck; Cat In A Tree; Capture Of the Wolf; Finale: Parade/Peter Plays Some Blues; One Mint Julip; Blues And The Abstract Truth; Down By The Riverside; Night Train; (Death March); Milestones; 'Round Midnight.
Personnel: Oliver Nelson: alto saxophone, composer, orchestrator.