How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Although Mosaic’s methods for rediscovering neglected artists have always been informed, this package of diverse material seems to be especially constructive in giving us a better picture of one of the jazz world’s most innovative and important artists of the 20th century. While Jones had made a few of his own recordings as a leader during his tenure with the John Coltrane Quartet (most notably Elvin! for Riverside and Illumination! for Impulse), it wasn’t until he broke rank with the saxophonist and signed a deal with Blue Note that the fine points of his own musical sensibilities would come to light. That’s exactly where this 8-CD set comes into play, containing as an added bonus several albums that are just now making their first appearance on compact disc.
The late 1960s were a heady period in American history and by the time that Elvin Jones would be cutting his first trio session for Blue Note in 1968, founder Alfred Lion had already departed the scene and changes in the art department and with recording technology would usher in a new Blue Note period wrought with its own share of woes and grandeur. That Jones was able to prosper during what would prove to be a period of decline for Blue Note not only testifies to his resilience as an artist but also as a committed and passionate human being.
Puttin’ It Together and The Ultimate Elvin Jones
Reuniting with bassist Jimmy Garrison, a pal from the Trane days, and adding the underrated Joe Farrell to a modest trio line-up, Jones’ first two sessions for Blue Note in April and September of 1968 certainly take a daring stand in light of the fact that no one seems to be playing it safe and there’s no attempt to develop a radio-friendly hit such as “The Sidewinder.” This is bare bones stuff without the aid of a chording instrument and the intent is on fierce swinging with a lot of the load falling on Farrell, who actually never fails to impress with his incendiary tenor work (surprisingly very different from Coltrane’s too!). By contrast, Farrell’s flute tonality is mellow and dark and his fluid soprano voice is singular in its originality.
The Prime Element and Poly-Currents
March and September sessions from 1969 dispense with the trio format (while bassist Jimmy Garrison is spelled by Wilbur Little) in favor of added horns, although the practice of having no chording instrument on hand continues. The former set was actually not issued at the time, first appearing as part of a double album set in 1976. In addition to Farrell’s arsenal of woodwinds, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor man George Coleman, and percussionists Candido Camero and Miovelito Valles make the scene. It’s interesting to note that the added percussion seemed to be a taste favored over the course of the next few years. Considering that Jones could be considered a one-man percussion section in his own right, his aural preferences at the time must have called for the dense and multi-layered textures that characterize the work of this period. Morgan and Coleman seem to be inspired by the quality material, which includes Chick Corea’s “Inner Space,” Joe Farrell’s “Champagne Baby,” and Jones’ own “Raynay” and “Dido Afrique.” Farrell’s alto flute statement on Jobim’s “Once I Loved” also turns out to be a real keeper.
One of Jones’ finest, if less renowned, sets from the end of the decade, Poly-Currents finds Morgan’s trumpet spelled by the baritone saxophone of Pepper Adams. There’s a clever balance of bop and “new thing” tendencies that marks all of the original compositions, especially “Mr. Jones,” a somewhat well known tribute composed by Elvin’s wife Keiko. The open-ended tunes and lengthy improvisations allow each performer a chance to stretch out at length and Jones contributes more than his share of dazzling moments.
Coalition and Genesis
A change of direction brings about the next phase of development as documented on these two sessions from 1970 and 1971 respectively. Farrell sits it out on Coalition with Frank Foster and George Coleman packing a strong two-tenor punch on four originals, another number finding Foster utilizing the seldom heard alto clarinet. The divergent styles work well, with Foster’s “boss” horn strutting alongside the Lestorian strains of Coleman. Proving to be a bit more varied, Genesis brings Farrell back on board along with adding youngsters Gene Perla on bass and Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano saxophones. With Farrell, Foster, and Liebman wielding an arsenal of horns, the charts make the most of the extended tonal possibilities. Especially memorable, Farrell’s alto flute murmurs and coos throughout the lovely “P.P. Phoenix.” On a purely technical note, both of these sessions prove to be problematic from a sonic prospective, with Gene Perla’s bass on the latter especially irksome due to being far too up-front in the mix.
Merry-Go-Round and Mr. Jones
These spunky albums from 1971 and 1972 unfortunately came about during a problematic time for jazz, with Blue Note just entering a period of decline marked by a dearth of riches. While multiple horns on the front line and added percussion were the norm, this would be the first time during his Blue Note tenure that Jones would add keyboards and guitar. Jan Hammer and Chick Corea would be along for the ride, and while the performances are generally all under five or six minutes, each one develops into a complete and genial statement. The compact quality of each piece seems to bring out Jones’ most focused support, making each note and each beat count. Sound quality has also evened out at this point, giving great clarity to the sounds brought forth from each of Elvin’s four limbs.
Live at the Lighthouse
With the next personnel change, Elvin fostered a working group of developing youngsters who were eager to stretch the boundaries and inspired by the company they kept. With Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, and Gene Perla, Elvin’s new ensemble would make their Blue Note debut via the live sessions from the Lighthouse that took place during September of 1972. Recorded on the day of Elvin’s 45th birthday, the dozen performances collected on the last two discs of this boxed set give us a discerning look into the verve and creative maturity that was the norm for this group. Many of the tracks go on at extended lengths, particularly a 28-minute take on “The Children’s Merry-Go-Round March,” a great forum for Jones’ cunning displays of technical brilliance. Clearly, Coltrane looms large in the minds of Liebman and Grossman, and quite possibly Jones is inspired by this, although on a less radical scale than what was happening in the Coltrane group right before the drummer’s departure. As a minor point, it should be noted that although all of the music captured that evening is included herein, Mosaic has opted to leave out stage announcements and an audience rendition of “Happy Birthday,” both of which appeared on the original release.
At This Point in Time
Another discographical web to be untangled, Jones’ final sessions for Blue Note, from July of 1973, wouldn’t originally appear until the 1976 double record set that brought us The Prime Element made its debut. Then, a few years ago the three remaining cuts that didn’t appear on the vinyl album would be collected on a reissue CD. Now we have all of that material collected here in one place and considering the time period in which these recordings were made, the results are quite intense and startling. Percussionist and writer Omar Clay was responsible for overseeing the production work on this collection of lengthy and complex arrangements. With a three-horn front line, the large ensemble also includes Jan Hammer’s electronic keyboards and the guitar of Cornell Dupree. This may be some of the most dramatic material to be found in the entire set, a testament again to Jones’ inability to compromise his ideals while faced with what was by then a company bent on the dilution of the highest jazz sensibilities.
Per Mosaic’s usual standards, this set comes housed in a 12 x 12 box with a 16-page booklet that serves as a precious companion via Dave Liebman’s session-by-session commentary. Photos include those shot by Francis Wolff at the actual sessions and a few later shots from Gene Perla’s own personal collection. Limited to only 5000 copies worldwide, this set is available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Disc 1:Reza, Sweet Little Maia, Keiko's Birthday March, Village Greene, Jay-Ree, For Heaven's Sake, Gingerbread Boy, In The Truth, What Is This?, Ascendant
Disc 2:Yesterdays, Sometimes Joie, We'll Be Together Again, Inner Space, Once I Loved (O Amor Em Paz), Raynay, Champagne Baby, Dido Afrique
Disc 3:Agenda, Agappe Love, Mr. Jones, Yes, Whew, Shinjitu, Yesterdays
Disc 4:5/4 Thing, Ural Stradania, Simone, P. P. Phoenix, For All The Other Times, Slumber, Three Card Molly, Cecilia Is Love, Who's Afraid
Collective Elvin Jones- drums; Joe Farrell- tenor sax, soprano sax, alto sax, flute, piccolo, English Horn; George Coleman- tenor saxophone; Frank Foster- tenor sax, alto clarinet, alto flute; David Liebman- tenor & soprano sax, flute; Steve Grossman- tenor & soprano sax; Pepper Adams- baritone sax; Lee Morgan- trumpet; Thad Jones- Flugelhorn; Jan Hammer- piano & electric piano; Chick Corea- piano; Yoshiaki Masuo- guitar; Cornell Dupree- guitar; Jimmy Garrison, Wilbur Little, Gene Perla- bass; Candido Camero, Don Alias, Patato Valdes- conga; Albert Duffy, Warren Smith- tympani; Frank Ippolito, Richie 'Pablo' Landrum, Omar Clay, Miovelito Valles- percussion