You truly need a score card to keep up with the distribution end of the Savoy label over the past five to ten years or so. Going as far back as this reviewer can remember, Muse was reissuing the catalog on vinyl and then CD, usually with re-done covers. A bit further down the road, things changed and Denon Japan got a hold of the inventory and the direction they took, not surprisingly, was one of facsimile reissues with original graphics and often woefully short playing times. Just at the tail end of this phase, we were seeing more of the same, but packaged in those five by five cardboard covers that made the discs look like mini vinyl albums. Now following a bit of a lull, it looks like the compilation approach is back with distribution being handled by Atlantic Records (see how confusing it is?) and the first few releases are just now hitting the shelves.
As an excellent stand-alone piece to accompany the new Savoy renaissance, we have the handsomely-packaged three disc set at hand that does an excellent job of attempting to survey the jazz end of the business. Founded by notorious miser Herman Lubinsky in 1942, Savoy under various independent producers and leased sessions documented a flourishing music scene for several decades that took in jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel. As we can hear in the performances that make up disc one, the label was testing the waters of the emerging be bop movement while still keeping its feet on the ground with many elegant swing recordings. Thus, old guard jazz men such as Don Byas, Ben Webster, and Ike Quebec would lead the way for the youngsters like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Of particular note too is a cut from huckster Slim Gaillard, whose "with-it" monologue no doubt was a precursor to such later "hip" men as Bob Dorough and Jack Kerouac.
It's full-throttle bebop for most of the second disc in the set. We hear such classics as J.J. Johnson's "Mad Be Bop," Dizzy Gillespie's "The Champ," Charlie Parker's "Bird Gets the Worm," and Fats Navarro's "Nostalgia," just to name a few. Also mixed in are obscurities from Allen Eager, Serge Chaloff, Red Norvo, and Charlie Ventura's "Euphoria", with the wordless vocals of Jackie and Roy standing as an early example of the vocalese style.
Producer Ozzie Cadena ushered in the period documented on disc three, with legendary sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder now on board for the majority of the Savoy sessions beginning in 1954. The Detroit contingency played a major part in the music recorded at this time too, with Donald Byrd, Yusef Lateef, Kenny Burrell, and Milt Jackson often on hand. There's also more of the hard bop edge apparent, such as was de rigueur for competitors Blue Note and Prestige during the same period.
Although some of the important Savoy recordings from the '60s are not included here, such as the work of Paul Bley, Bill Barron, Perry Robinson, and more from Yusef Lateef, the core of Savoy's vital swing and be bop sides are presented in a logical fashion. Complete with track-by-track annotation and a label history by Bob Porter, the 67-page booklet also includes some choice session photographs and each disc is housed in a cardboard slipcover, the entire contents done up in a glossy laminated box the size of your average CD. It all adds up to a great gift idea for a friend or for yourself!
Disc One:Cozy Cole- JERSEY JUMP OFF, Ben Webster- HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, Earl Warren- TUSH, Johnny Guarnieri- THESE FOOLISH THINGS, Lester Young- BLUE LESTER, Hot Lips Page- UNCLE SAM'S BLUES, Pete Brown- MOPPIN' THE BLUES, Miss Rhapsody- SWEET MAN, Herbie Fields- BUCK'S BOOGIE WOOGIE, Joe Turner- JOHNSON & TURNER BLUES, Ike Quebec- JIM DAWGS, Erroll Garner- LAURA, Illinois Jacquet- JUMPIN' JACQUET, Don Byas- CANDY, Slim Gaillard- SLIM'S JAM, Billy Eckstine- LONESOME LOVER BLUES, Don Byas- HOW HIGH THE MOON, Charlie Parker- NOW'S THE TIME, Dexter Gordon- DEXTER'S DECKS, Billy Eckstine- I LOVE THE RHYTHM IN A RIFF, Boyd Raeburn- BOYD MEETS STRAVINSKY, Charlie Parker- KOKO (65:32)
Disc Two:Stan Getz- DON'T WORRY 'BOUT ME, J.J. Johnson- MAD BE BOP, The Be Bop Boys- RAY'S IDEA, Fats Navarro- NOSTALGIA, Fats Navarro/Leo Parker- ICE FREEZES RED, Allan Eager- CHURCH MOUSE, Serge Chaloff- GABERDINE & SERGE, Charlie Parker- CHASIN' THE BIRD, Miles Davis- HALF NELSON, Dexter Gordon- SETTIN' THE PACE, Leo Parker- WEE DOT, Charlie Parker- PARKER'S MOOD, Charlie Ventura- EUPHORIA, Stan Getz- STAN'S MOOD, George Shearing- MOON OVER MIAMI, Charlie Parker- BIRD GETS THE WORM, Red Norvo- MOVE, Art Pepper- SURF RIDE, Dizzy Gillespie- TIN TIN DEO, Dizzy Gillespie- THE CHAMP, Marian McPartland- A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKLEY SQUARE, Gene Ammons- RED TOP (67:29)
Disc Three:Jay & Kai- BERNIE'S TUNE, Charles Mingus- EULOGY FOR RUDY WILLIAMS, Little Jimmy Scott- WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN, Kenny Clarke- WITH APOLOGIES TO OSCAR, Cannonball Adderley- A LITTLE TASTE, Milt Jackson- YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS, Donald Byrd- IF I LOVE AGAIN, Kenny Clarke- AFTERNOON IN PARIS, Yusef Lateef- 8540 TWELFTH STREET, Charlie Byrd- SPRING IS HERE, Herbie Mann- YARDBIRD SUITE, Wilbur Harden- E.F.F.P.H., Coleman Hawkins- I'VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, Curtis Fuller- BLUESETTE (72:38)