More so than other independent jazz labels such as Blue Note and Riverside, the powers to be at Prestige seemed to take great liberties in producing albums that would often contain cuts from multiple sessions, a discographical nightmare at its most basic. But even more troubling, this often made for a lack of coherence that could be disconcerting at times. What then made all of this worse was that the practice was often used with some of the label’s most important and visible artists.
The forgoing will hopefully put into perspective the circumstances surrounding the strange mélange that makes up the Gene Ammons compilation A Stranger In Town. Taken from no less than five recording sessions that span from 1954 to 1970, the 13 tracks assembled here originally appeared on the albums Velvet Soul, Sock!, and Night Lights. That’s the easy part; and then it gets confusing as you try to keep up with the rotating cast of characters on hand. A boisterous “The Song Is You” gets us started with some great small group charts provided by Oliver Nelson, only to give way to a spate of quartet performances that while solid are not particularly all that revelatory. The closing three tracks, particularly a tasty “Calypso Blues,” are the cream of the crop as Ammons' blustery attack gets bluesy support from the ubiquitous Wynton Kelly.