Following hard on the heels of Mosaic’s already acclaimed Vee-Jay set collecting early works from Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan, we get The Complete Vee Jay Paul Chambers-Wynton Kelly Sessions, a superlative companion piece that sets straight material that has been issued and reissued in haphazard form for many years now. In addition to a pair of original releases from bassist Paul Chambers and another three from pianist Wynton Kelly, we get the full output of the Fabulous Frank Strozier album (included because of Kelly’s role as a sideman on the date) and six previously unreleased alternate takes from various sessions.
Paul Chambers- Go! and 1st Bassman
Arguably one of the greatest jazz bassists of the modern era, Paul Chambers led a short, but active musical life and recorded literally hundreds of albums both under his own name and as a sideman. His own recording career as a leader easily falls into two distinct periods- his 1956-1957 tenure with Blue Note and his 1959-1960 stint with Vee Jay. There were of course other one shot deals, but his Blue Note and Vee Jay material remains the most substantial of his own work.
Two sessions from February 1959 yielded the original album entitled Go!. This hard bop delight is notable for a front line that includes trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, new on the scene at the time, and Cannonball Adderley. Wynton Kelly, Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb were the rhythm team for Miles Davis at the time and their empathetic teamwork was responsible for elevating many a blowing date of the time above the mean standard (note that on a few cuts Hubbard drops out and Philly Joe Jones spells Cobb on drums). Two warhorses, “Just Friends” and “I Got Rhythm,” are sandwiched in between such Chambers originals as “Ease It” and “I Heard That.”
Cut almost a year later in May of 1960, 1st Bassman yielded a modest five cuts and no additional material. Still, there seems to be some very perceptible growth in Chamber’s ability to move the date beyond your average blowing session. All the tunes are by Yusef Lateef and he manages to develop interesting structures that stimulate the creative juices of a fantastic sextet- namely Tommy Turrentine, Curtis Fuller, Kelly, Chambers, and drummer Lex Humphries.
Wynton Kelly- Kelly Great, Kelly at Midnight, and Wynton Kelly!
Like Chambers, pianist Wynton Kelly’s recorded output falls into several distinct segments. Aside from dates for Blue Note, Delmark, and Milestone, Kelly’s most important work as a leader would be documented for Riverside (1957-1959), Vee Jay (1960-1961), and Verve (1964-1966). Kelly Great, from August of 1959, would be the pianist’s first for Vee Jay and it’s a typical hard bop affair with Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter on the front line and the Miles rhythm team of Kelly, Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones firmly in place. The results, however, are far from run-of-the-mill, with Morgan’s bristling attack and Shorter’s idiosyncratic approach helping to make this an underground classic. Kelly, Morgan, and Shorter share the writing chores and the latter’s two contributions (“Sydney” and “Mama G”) are youthful examples of his brilliance as a modern composer.
The remaining Kelly material consists of two whole discs worth of the finest piano trio jazz of its kind. Kelly at Midnight featured Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, while Wynton Kelly! and a sizable number of additional performances issued in various forms over the years sported the team of Chambers and Cobb. With a bluesy lilt that goes down so easy, Kelly’s strength as a soloist was in the way he would spin lines in a deceptively simple fashion that communicated directly with the listener. For some telling insight into the way that Kelly fashioned his solos, one should look no further than the six takes of “Scotch and Water” and the four takes of “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Each one is unique in its own way and constitutes tangible proof of the artist at work.
Frank Strozier- Fantastic Frank Strozier
The final selections included in this set are the 18 tracks (including alternates) that constitute alto saxophonist Frank Strozier’s maiden voyage as a leader. Taken together with his two early ‘60s dates for Jazzland ( Long Night and March of the Siamese Children ), these performances reveal a particularly soulful jazzman who has yet to receive his full dues. Also notable is a rare appearance from fellow Memphis native Booker Little. In fact, it takes nothing away from Strozier’s contributions to suggest that Little really steals the show here, demonstrating a dark and brooding character that made the trumpeter one of the ‘60s key innovators. The Kelly/Chambers/Cobb triumvirate provides support of great substance, not surprisingly.
Spread over six discs, the music contained herein has finally been treated in a fashion commensurate with it’s historical significance, although it should be noted that the master takes on each of Kelly’s three original Vee Jays were not transferred from the original tapes. Still, the overall sound quality is clean and there are no obvious glitches to hamper the enjoyment of the music at hand. A 16-page booklet includes Bob Blumenthal’s insightful commentary and a wealth of session photos by Francis Wolff and Chuck Stewart. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Connecticut, 06902, (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Personnel: Paul Chambers (bass); Wynton Kelly (piano); Freddie Hubbard, Tommy Turrentine, Lee Morgan (trumpet); Cannonball Adderley, Frank Strozier (alto sax); Yusef Lateef (tenor sax & flute); Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone); Curtis Fuller (trombone); Sam Jones (bass); Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Lex Humphries (drums)