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Billy Bean/Walter Norris/Hal Gaylor: The Trio Rediscovered

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Though born and raised in Philadelphia, home of many jazz greats, Billy Bean moved to New York in the late 1950's where he worked with Bud Shank, Red Callender and Charlie Ventura. Despite his undisputed talent, there are relatively few examples of his work extant on discs. He is not listed at all in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography as a leader. His recorded output has been as a sideman, albeit a prominent one, on sessions lead by others. He made his first recordings with Red Callender around the mid-fifties and then two albums with Charlie Ventura around 1957. It was around that same time that he teamed up with another "newcomer" to jazz guitar, Johnny Pisano, to make two of the incredible guitar recordings to come out of that period, Take Your Pick and Makin' It. After making these albums and in his prime, Billy Bean disappeared from jazz following the footsteps of such notables as Dodo Marmarmosa, Lucky Thompson and another fine guitarist, Johnny Smith. The liner notes for this reissue, which were written in January 2000, state that bassist Gaylor has "been in touch" with Bean. But there is no indication whether this means that he has resumed performing or plans to restart his jazz career.

The trio on this album recorded twice for Riverside Records in 1961. The first session was reissued by the Fantasy Group in 1999. Now comes England-based String Jazz label releasing the second album, The Trio Rediscovered. Billy Bean is clearly the at the top of his form on this set. His harp like sound is clean and untrammeled with pings and other extraneous noises one often hears from those less expert on that instrument. The play list is a mix of originals by jazz performers of the day combined with standards by Porter, Gershwin, Strayhorn and Rodgers and Hart. In the playing of the original material, one hears elements of bop. In the case of Horace Silver's "Safari", written when he was with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, there's hard bop with a bit of the funk thrown in. In contrast the standards are played in a straight ahead fashion and "Porgy and Bess Medley" performed in a classical like vein. This track certainly is a highlight of the album and is not matched elsewhere on the set for its intensity. "Have You Met Miss Jones" out and out swings while "Lush Life" compares favorably with recordings by Joe Pass and Bucky Pizzarelli.

While Bean is the musical, if not the group, leader the other players are by no means insignificant. Quite the contrary, Walter Norris' piano comps mightily in support of Bean and shines on several solo opportunities as on "Motivation". It seems that Norris has permanently made his home in Germany. Our loss. Without drums, Gaylor's bass is alone in making sure matters stay on course when it comes to the beat, a responsibility he meets with ease.

This reissue is a fine addition to any jazz fan's collection and is recommended.

Track Listing: Motivation; Lush Life; All of You; Porgy & Bess Medley; Lands End; Have You Met Miss Jones; Grooveyard; Che-Low; Safari

Personnel: Billy Bean - Guitar; Walter Norris - Piano; Hal Gaylor - Bass

Record Label: String Jazz Recordings

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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