Various Artists: First Impulse - The Creed Taylor Collection / 50th Anniversary
First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection / 50th Anniversary
The headline news on this lavishly packaged, four-CD collection of the work of the Impulse! label's founding producer, Creed Taylor, is that it includes three previously unreleased tracks by John Coltrane. These were recorded during rehearsals for what would become the saxophonist's Impulse! debut, Africa/Brass, in 1961. They have a combined playing time of less than eight minutes, but as newly discovered Coltrane recordings are reduced to a trickle with the passage of time, the arrival of any such material, however brief, is an event. About these tracks, more in a moment.
But first, some other good news: the sheer gorgeousness of the Hip-O Select packaging, which is of a quality befitting the occasion. Right from the start, in 1961, Taylor's Impulse! set a new benchmark in sleeve design; its gatefold packaging and sophisticated graphics became as iconic in the 1960s and early 1970s as the Blue Note label's house style had been in the 1950s, and the ECM label's is today. But since its first incarnation between 1961 and 1975, the Impulse! catalogue has been reissued, as often as not, in cheap, bean counter-imposed packaging which has been a mockery of what the label originally stood for. The rogue's gallery of shoddy design and manufacture is a long one, and extends even to Impulse!'s own four-CD anthology, The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records (2006), which was packaged in easily torn, lightweight card (not to mention the nasty, jewel-cased Best Of discs released alongside it).
Hip-O Select's set, by contrast, respects Creed Taylor's audio and visual presentation standards. We will return to this, too.
Ultimately, of course, it is the music that matters most, and the near on five hours' playing time of First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection / 50th Anniversary contains a high proportion which ranks among the finest jazz ever recorded. It includes all six albums which Taylorwhose previous output spanned jazz, pop and what was then called mood music (check the first YouTube clip below)completed for Impulse! before leaving the label, less than a year after he formed it, for Verve during the summer of 1961. From January 1961, composer/arranger Gil Evans' Out Of The Cool, trombonists Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson's The Great Kai & J.J., Winding's The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones, and singer/keyboardist Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz; from August, saxophonist Oliver Nelson's The Blues And The Abstract Truth; and from November, Coltrane's Africa/Brass.
Three of these albumsthe Coltrane, Nelson and Evansare jazz classics, among the most exalted recorded by their leaders; a fourth, featuring Charles not on piano, his usual instrument, but on Hammond organ (with a few brief vocals), removed any then-lingering doubts about Charles' jazz chops; the remaining pair, by trombonists Winding and Johnson, lack the radical semiology of the others (the two had been an item, as it were, on and off since 1954, although the trombone choir assembled for The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones was more novel), but are also top drawer. "The New Wave of Jazz is on Impulse!," as the tagline penned by Taylor accurately proclaimed, but the label's Taylor and post-Taylor catalogue included an ongoing mainstream strand. It is a fair bet that many Impulse! devotees are familiar only with the label's "new thing" releases. If the presence here of The Great Kai & J.J. and The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones encourages a broader trawl through the Impulse! archive, the exercise which will be amply rewarded.
The six albums, chronologically sequenced and with their original track running orders, make up the first three discs in the collection.
The fourth disc is a selection of bonus tracks, including the three Coltrane rehearsal recordings. The shortest lasts 1:30 minutes, the longest 3:06. Their precise personnel is unknown, but they sound like they include many of the musicians who went on to record Africa/Brass. There are no solos; the tracks capture the band, under the joint direction of Coltrane and trumpeter Cal Massey, practicing ensemble passages for Massey's "The Damned Don't Cry"not part of the original Africa/Brass album but included on The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions (Impulse!, 1999)and two ballads, Massey's "Nakatine Serenade" and David Raksin and Johnny Mercer's "Laura," which were later dropped from the project. Until now, the tapes, which have good audio quality, have been in the private possession of the Massey family.
The remainder of the fourth disc consists of the mono, single version of Genius + Soul = Jazz's "One Mint Julep," a top ten hit for Impulse!, and not previously issued on CD; an arrangement of Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," not included on Out Of The Cool but recorded during the sessions, and first issued in 1978 as part of Gil Evans/Gary McFarland: The Dedication Series, Vol. IX; and "The Damned Don't Cry," "Song Of The Underground Railroad," the first take of "Africa," and alternate takes of "Greensleeves" and "Africa," all included on The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions.
The four discs are presented in a weighty, 10-inch square, hardback book-form package, its 82 pages including an introduction by Ashley Kahn, a long essay by Creed Taylor (pictured right), definitive personnel and session data for all but the new Coltrane tracks, and album commentaries from Kahn and Taylor. Some of the text is taken from Kahn's label biography, The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records (Granta, 2006), some of it is newly put-together. Also included are some rarely seen photos, and full-page reproductions of the six original LPs' front and inside gatefold covers. First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection / 50th Anniversary is as beautifully designedand carefully curatedas Hip-O Select's immaculate three-CD collection of early works by saxophonist Stan Getz, Quintets / The Clef & Norgan Studio Albums (Verve/Hip-O Select, 2011). It is sumptuous to look at and heavy in the hands.
It is also, of course, heavy in the earsstill, after all these years. Taylor too often stands in the shadow of his successor at Impulse!, Bob Thiele, who directed the label from Taylor's departure until late 1968the era which included Coltrane's glory years. But Taylor's achievements, first in persuading his paymasters at ABC-Paramount to fund an adventurous jazz label with expensive production values, and then recording its six magnificent launch albums, cannot be overestimated. This set does him proud.
Tracks: CD1: The Great Kai And J.J.: This Could Be The Start Of Something; Georgia On My Mind; Blue Monk; Alone Together; Side By Side; I Concentrate On You; Moonglow/Theme From Picnic; Trixie; Going Going Gong!; Just For A Thrill; Speak Low; Lil Darlin.' The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones: Doodlin'; Love Walked In; Mangos; Impulse; Black Coffee; Bye Bye Blackbird; Michie (slow); Michie (fast). CD2: Genius + Soul = Jazz: From The Heart; I've Got News For You; Moanin'; Let's Go; One Mint Julep; I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town; Stompin' Room Only; Mister C; Strike Up The Band; Birth Of The Blues. Out Of The Cool: La Nevada; Where Flamingos Fly; Bilbao Song; Stratusphunk; Sunken Treasure. CD3: The Blues And The Abstract Truth: Stolen Moments; How-Down; Cascades; Yearnin'; Butch And Butch; Teenie's Blues. Africa/Brass: Africa; Greensleeves; Blues Minor. CD4: Bonus Tracks: One Mint Julep (Ray Charles); Sister Sadie (Gil Evans); Song Of The Underground Railroad; Green sleeves (John Coltrane); The Damned Don't Cry (John Coltrane); Africa (John Coltrane); Africa (John Coltrane); Laura (John Coltrane); Nakatine Serenade (John Coltrane); The Damned Don't Cry (John Coltrane).
Collective Personnel: CD1: The Great Kai And J.J.: J.J. Johnson: trombone; Kai Winding: trombone; Bill Evans: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Tommy Williams: bass; Roy Haynes: drums; Art Taylor: drums. The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones: Kai Winding: tenor trombone; Johnny Messner: tenor trombone; Ephie Resnick: tenor trombone; Jimmy Knepper: tenor trombone; Tony Studd: bass trombone; Paul Faulise: bass trombone; Dick Lieb: bass trombone; Ray Starling: mellophone; Ross Tompkins: piano; Bill Evans: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Ron Carter: bass; Al Beldini: drums; Stick Evans: drums; Olatunji: conga. CD2: Genius + Soul = Jazz: Ray Charles: organ, vocals; Clark Terry: trumpet; Phillip Guilbeau: trumpet; Joe Newman: trumpet; Thad Jones: trumpet; Eugene Young: trumpet; Joe Wilder: trrumpet; John Frosk: trumpet; Jimmy Nottingham: trumpet; Frank Wess: alto saxophone; Marshal Royal: alto saxophone; George Dorsey: alto saxophone; Earle Warren: alto saxophone; Frank Foster: tenor saxophone; Billy Mitchell: tenor saxophone; Budd Johnson: tenor saxophone; Seldon Powell: tenor saxophone; Charlie Fowlkes: baritone saxophone; Haywood Henry: baritone saxophone; Urbie Green: trombone; Benny Powell: trombone; Henry Coker: trombone; Al Grey: trombone; Jimmy Cleveland: trombone; Key Johnson: trombone; George Matthews: trombone; Freddy Green: guitar; Sam Herman: guitar; Eddy Jones: bass; Joe Benjamin: bass; Sonny Payne: drums; Roy Haynes: drums. Out Of The Cool: Gil Evans: piano; Keg Johnson: trombone; Jimmy Knepper: trombone; Tony Studd: bass trombone; Bill Barber: tuba; John Coles: trumpet; Phil Sunkel: trumpet; Ray Beckenstein: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Eddie Caine: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Budd Johnson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bob Tricario: bassoon, flute, piccolo; Ray Crawford: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Charlie Persip: percussion; Elvin Jones: percussion. CD3: The Blues And The Abstract Truth: Oliver Nelson: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; George Barrow: baritone saxophone; Bill Evans: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Roy Haynes: drums. Africa/Brass: John Coltrane: soprano saxophone; tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Reggie Workman: bass; Art Davis: bass; Elvin Jones: drums; Booker Little: trumpet; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Britt Woodman: trombone; Julian Priester: euphonium; Charles Greenlee: euphonium; Carl Bowman: euphonium; Julius Watkins: French horn; Donald Corrado: French horn; Bob Northern: French horn; Jimmy Buffington: French horn; Robert Swisshelm: French horn; Bill Barber: tuba; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet; Garvin Bushell: piccolo, reeds; Pat Patrick: baritone saxophone. CD4: as CD2 and CD3 Africa/Brass.