Standards on Impulse! is a collection disc with a few twists, but not as many as one might expect from that label's classic Sixties roster. Art Blakey kicks off the proceedings with a driving version of Gershwin's "Summertime" that seems to owe a bit to John Coltrane's 1960 version, three years before this recording. Here Sonny Stitt plays lines that explain why they call it "hard bop," McCoy Tyner displays his characteristic intensity of the period, and Art Davis is solid as a rock on the bass. As this track wound down I had the impression that nothing would top its powerful swing. But the next practitioners are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, with their all-time classic take on "In a Sentimental Mood" from their 1962 collaboration. Unfortunately, the sound on this track sounds a bit brittle coming right after the thickness and sonic muscularity of the Blakey track, but there's no denying that this is one for the ages.
J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding combine their crisp trombone sounds on "I Concentrate on You." The unison work here is most impressive. In fact, who's done it better? Then Benny Carter and His Orchestra gives us (only) four minutes of "Body and Soul"; pity there wasn't more time for the orchestra to stretch out; as it is we get only a taste of Benny (alto sax), Phil Woods (alto), Coleman Hawkins (tenor), and Charlie Rouse (tenor). The Gil Evans Orchestra features Johnny Coles in the Miles Davis chair (and filling it ably) for "Sister Sadie," and the ensemble is as crisp and clean as ever came from Mr. Evans' guiding hand.
"Unforgettable" is what Johnny Hartman's voice is, and he's here too. Count Basie gives us "Oh, Lady Be Good," and Mingus adds a straight "Mood Indigo" from his Black Saint and the Sinner Lady -era large group. Roland Kirk adds piquancy to Roy Haynes' take on "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," but John Coltrane's "What's New" is as straight as they come. Spare, sharp, and just right. Likewise, McCoy Tyner's bouncy "Satin Doll" and Shelly Manne's "Cherokee." Ben Webster's "Stardust" is intriguing to compare to Archie Shepp's roiling "Girl from Ipanema," for the two saxmen, as has been oft-remarked, have a father-son relationship, and you can hear it for yourself here. The other tracks are merely Clark Terry ("'Til You Hear from Me") and the Duke with the Hawk ("Solitude").
Once again, on a collection like this there are no weak spots. Every hair is in place. Still, where is more adventurous territory (to complement Shepp) like Trane's "Chim Chim Cheree"? Of course, most of that sort of thing didn't include standards. So this is a good sampling of what material exists. Again, for newcomers.