More Fresh Sounds From Fresh Sound
The Fresh Sound record label has released another superb batch of late 1950s and early 1960s recordings by jazz legends, greats, near-greats and now obscure artists who, then and now, deserve wider recognition. As detailed in previous pieces, Fresh Sound is the only organization out there issuing these essential works, which otherwise would remain lost.
Without doubt, in the legendary category are the 1956 and 1957 quintet and sextet sessions led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson and featuring the tenor saxophone of Lucky Thompson. These sessions, Milt Jackson Quintet and Sextet with Lucky Thompson (2012), originally on the Savoy label, represent quintessential, relatively early Bags, soulfully swinging as always, and apart from what some believed were the "confines" of the Modern Jazz Quartet. This two-CD set, which includes bonus tracks from a 1956 and 1957 Atlantic Records date, stand as Jackson's first sessions as a leader, though he had been recording as early as the mid-1940s. The vibraphonist's playing is fully formed here, as is Thompson's modern version of Don Byas. Many of the sidemen on these titles, which include drummer Kenny Clarke, bassist Oscar Pettiford, pianistsHank Jones, Horace Silver, and the MJQ's John Lewis; qualify for legendary status as well. These sidesall of themare landmarks in the history of recorded jazz.
Long before Oliver Nelson became one of the busiest and most respected composers and arrangers on the Hollywood movie and television scene, he was a hard-blowing, exciting, bluesy tenor and alto saxophonist, and when the occasion called for it, a thoughtful balladeer with a beautiful tone and attractive vibrato. Fresh Sound has issued Nelson's first outings as a leader, both Prestige blowing dates, Meet Oliver Nelson, from 1959 and Main Stem, from two years later. Nelson, who left us much too soon at the age of 43 in 1975, is heard here as a soulful combination of Dexter Gordon with overtones of early John Coltrane, and it's easy to hear where he was headed in later years with albums like Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961) and classic compositions like "Stolen Moments." He swings like mad, egged on by frontline partner Kenny Dorham on trumpet, pianist Ray Bryant, bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Art Taylor on the first session. On Main Stem, Joe Newmanplays trumpet, with a rhythm section comprised of Hank Jones on piano, George Duvivieron bass, Charlie Persip on drums, and Latin percussionist Ray Barretto on some tracks. Many releases like this were taken for granted back in the day. We know now that they shouldn't have been.
Nelson also shows up on one half of a CD devoted to the tragic vibraphonist Lem Winchester. Winchester, one of the most promising figures in jazz, was a Wilmington, Delaware, policeman who left the force to become a full-time musician in. He was on his way to becoming a certifiable star when he shot himself while, some say, playing Russian Roulette, and died at the age of 33 in 1961. Winchester plays on Nelson's quintet date of 1960, Takin Care of Business (1960), which also featured the organ of Johnny "Hammond" Smith, highlighted by an early version of Nelson's "Trane Whistle." Winchester was headed toward individuality on vibes, as something of a combination of Milt Jackson's soulfulness and the swinging fire and velocity of Terry Gibbs. Part two of this CDboth originally Prestige releasesis a Winchester-led session called Lem's Beat (1960), where Nelson served as a featured sideman.
Fresh Sound has thankfully seen fit to issue everything ever recorded by Winchester, including With Feeling (1960) and Nocturne (1960), which also features the fabulous singing of Etta Jones; the 1958 New Faces at Newport program; and from the same year, A Tribute to Clifford Brown, where the vibraphonist is backed by the instantly identifiable sound of pianist Ramsey Lewis' original trio. Also impressive are Winchester Special, from 1959 and featuring pianist Tommy Flanagan, and Another Opus, where the vibraphonist shares the front line with the flute and tenor sax of Frank Wess. Though he left us as a very young age, jazz listeners are fortunate that he left behind a reasonably extensive recorded legacy.