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Extended Analysis

Gerry Mulligan: Mosaic Select 21

By Published: March 29, 2006
Gerry Mulligan
Mosaic Select 21
Mosaic Records

Gerry Mulligan is one of the greatest baritone saxophonists in the history of jazz, with a truly remarkable tone, sense of phrasing, and creativity. It's easy to overlook Mulligan's composing and arranging talents, but they too are of the highest caliber. This three-disc set offers several excellent examples of Mulligan's playing and writing skills.

These sessions, mainly from December of 1957, prove that Mulligan was willing to showcase his talents in a wide variety of settings—from his quartet to an all-star nonet (with an eye-popping lineup of saxophonists), a string quartet, and an album with vocalist Annie Ross, Mulligan shows his versatility. He is also remarkably consistent, making pertinent contributions to each session. The sidemen (and one sidewoman) on this set are superb as well: Ross, trumpeters Chet Baker and Art Farmer, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Allan Eager, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, bassist Henry Grimes, and drummer Dave Bailey. We are lucky that Pacific Jazz producer Richard Bock was able to capture Mulligan in such a panoply of settings in such a short span of time.

One of Mulligan's most famous ensembles was a piano-less quartet that he formed in the early fifties with trumpeter Chet Baker. They parted ways in 1953 but reunited in 1957 for the aptly named Reunion. Baker and Mulligan, along with Grimes and Bailey, tackle mainly standards on this session, which takes up all of the first disc of this three-CD set. The two horns mesh beautifully, whether in unison lines or in thematic variations where trumpet and baritone weave in and out in a kind of cat-and-mouse game.

The soloing is first rate, with Mulligan in particularly inspired form (as he is throughout these sessions). Grimes displays a nice, fat bass sound, and Bailey works well with him. The lack of a chordal instrument (piano or guitar) is not a problem at all. Grimes and Bailey keep things swinging at a jubilant clip on the mid- to up-tempo numbers, such as Charlie Parker's "Ornithology, and the horns seem to enjoy the harmonic freedom, spinning creative tales of their own. Baker plays nicely as usual, but his seemingly indifferent approach at times strips a certain level of emotional impact from his sound.

Disc two begins with the formidable album The Gerry Mulligan Songbook, Vol. 1, where Mulligan is joined by the four previously noted saxophonists. The tunes are expertly arranged by Bill Holman; longtime Count Basie band guitarist Freddie Green joins Grimes and Bailey in the rhythm section. Holman really gets the most out of the five saxophones, creating interesting textures and chords. Eager and Sims are heard on both alto and tenor, Cohn plays tenor and baritone, while Konitz and Mulligan play their usual axes, alto and baritone respectively. Konitz's approach, especially his excellent lyrical lines and quirky phrasing, contrasts sharply with that of the other saxophonists, despite their sharing a primary stylistic influence: Lester Young.

For listeners who are unable to identify each saxophonist individually, the original liner notes are particular helpful. Nat Hentoff uses what he calls a "solo box score, which helps the listener immensely. Mosaic reprints the original liner notes and cover art where applicable, something the label has only done in the Select series, and it is a welcome enhancement. The one slight drawback to this session is the sometimes poor editing that occurs. Pacific Jazz was notorious for this problem, but fortunately for listeners, it does not detract much from the wonderful music.

Disc two concludes with four tracks from the session that was supposed to make up an album called Stringtime (the first five selections from the last disc are also from this session). This is definitely the strangest and probably weakest session here, although there are some interesting moments. Cellist Calo Scott is the standout musician, aside from Mulligan, contributing a number of fine solos. Although the four tunes from the second disc were released, this date clearly did not work quite according to plan. More rehearsal time was needed—the quartet and Mulligan seem hesitant in a number of places.

The bulk of the third disc contains the sessions with vocalist Annie Ross. Some of the tunes were originally put out under Ross' name on the World Pacific label; the resulting album was called Annie Ross Sings a Song of Mulligan. The vocalist is backed by the same quartet that appears on the first CD of this set, for two December '57 sessions. The ensemble changes slightly for the September 1958 session, with Art Farmer replacing Baker on trumpet, and Bill Crow replacing Grimes on bass.

These tunes are all standards, mostly well-known ones, and Ross puts her own spin on each of them. Be it the quickly paced "It Don't Mean a Thing or the slow and sublime version of "I've Grown Accustomed To His Face (two versions are included), the vocalist brings out the true meaning of each song, without making them sound contrived or superficial. "You Turned The Tables On Me is blues-tinged and Mulligan bobs and weaves around Ross' voice. The addition of Farmer is a welcome change, as his sound is darker and fuller than Baker's. Farmer was Mulligan's trumpeter at the time; they also recorded a beautiful quartet album for Columbia called What Is There To Say.


CD1 - Reunion; When Your Lover Has Gone; Star Dust; My Heart Belongs To Daddy; Jersey Bounce; Surrey With The Fringe On Top; Ornithology; Trav'lin' Light; People Will Say Were In Love; Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You; The Song Is You; Festive Minor; I Got Rhythm; Trav'lin' Light (alternate take); Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You (alternate take); All The Things You Are.

CD2 - Four And One Moore; Crazy Day; Turnstile; Sextet; Disc Jockey Jump (full version); Venus De Milo; Revelation; Crazy Day (mono take); Turnstile (mono take); May- Reh; The Preacher; Good Bait; Bags' Groove.

CD3 - Lullaby In Rhythm; Body And Soul; Out Of Nowhere; I'll Remember April; I Can't Get Started; I Feel Pretty; How About You?; I've Grown Accustomed To His Face; This Time The Dream's On Me; Let There Be Love; All Of You; Give Me The Simple Life; This Is Always; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (unedited version); The Lady's In Love With You; My Old Flame; I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plans; You Turned The Tables On Me; This Is Always (first version); I've Grown Accustomed To His Face (first version).


Chet Baker, Art Farmer: trumpet; Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Allan Eager, alto and tenor saxophone; Zoot Sims, alto and tenor saxophone; Al Cohn, tenor and baritone saxophone; Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Freddie Green, Paul Palmieri, guitar; Dick Wetmore, violin; Calo Scott, cello; Henry Grimes, Vinnie Burke, Bill Crow, bass; Dave Bailey, drums; Annie Ross, vocal; Bill Holman, arranger.

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