Five years after his last album was recorded, Gerry Mulligan’s sound once again is being released by Telarc Jazz on a compilation of re-releases from his last albums. The Art Of Gerry Mulligan: The Final Recordings not only shows that Mulligan’s unparalleled talent for accessible improvisation remained intact, even as his health declined, but also suggests that his wide range of creative interests remained unpredictable.
Musically curious throughout his lifetime, Mulligan didn’t find comfort in a niche from which he wouldn’t budge, as less imaginative artists sometimes do. Instead, he continued to explore alternative forms, as the three albums of the compilation suggest: Latin jazz on Paraiso, standard quartet interpretations of standards and Mulligan’s original compositions on Dream A Little Dream and the employment of a bass ensemble (not to mention John Scofield and Grover Washington, Jr.) on Dragonfly.
Floating through songs like “Wave” or “North Atlantic Rim,” Mulligan plays liltingly in unison or in accompaniment with singer Jane Duboc, quite a feat considering the difficulty of playing his instrument in what is basically in tenor range. On “Wave,” Mulligan floats through the tune with his well-known melodic capacity, creating the path for Duboc and the Brazilian musicians to follow after the key change.
The tracks from Dragonfly pursue a bluesier and more bop-based style. “Brother Blues” and “Dragonfly” remind us of the depth of the loss when Mulligan and Grover Washington, Jr. passed away only a few years apart. Washington is in his element on tenor sax in the blues, trading choruses with Mulligan. In addition, Washington’s soprano sax work on “Dragonfly,” as Mulligan softly weaves his way into the second chorus harmonically behind Washington, recalls his Winelight sound without the saccharine contemporary approach. Mulligan’s composition, “Art Of Trumpet,” sets up the opportunity for Ryan Kisor to solo with a rich and flowing arrangement involving lower brass accents evoking Mulligan’s experience with Claude Thornhill.
And then Dream A Little Dream records Mulligan’s last great group with Ted Rosenthal on piano, Dean Johnson on bass and Ron Vincent on drums. While it’s certainly a showcase for Mulligan to surge lyrically through several standards, Rosenthal contributes in no small part to the success of the recordings as he meets Mulligan’s demands for a more orchestral approach to piano. As part of the remembrance of Mulligan, Rosenthal led last year’s Mulligan tribute band that included Bob Brookmeyer and Lee Konitz. On “My Funny Valentine,” former Mulligan pianist, Bill Mays, rejoins the supreme saxophonist for one last time as they revisit one of the better-known tunes in Mulligan’s songbook.
The final track, “Song For Strayhorn,” written by Mulligan, provides the platform for him to acknowledge the influence of one of jazz’ greatest composers. It allows us to remember the same talents that Mulligan shared with him.
Track Listing: Paraiso; Dragonfly; Dream A Little Dream; Wave; O Bom Alvinho; Noblesse; Nobody Else But Me; Brother Blues; Art Of Trumpet; My Funny Valentine; North Atlantic Run; Oh, Mr. Sauter? Yes, Mr Finegan?; Song For Strayhorn
Personnel: Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax; Ted Rosenthal, Bill Mays, Dave Grusin, Charlie Ernst, Cliff Korman, piano; Ryan Kisor, trumpet; Grover Washington, Jr., soprano & tenor sax; John Scofield, Emanuel Moreira, guitar; Byron Stripling, Bobby Milliken, flugelhorn & trumpet; Warren Vach