Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet The Complete Argo/Mercury Sessions Mosaic Records
Times were different. Back in the '50s and '60s there were jazz bands that we might today call true "super groups, but back then it was just an outgrowth of a particularly fertile period for talent. As a result, there was nothing forced about these kinds of conglomerations and the mending of talents produced a whole which usually was much more than the sum of its parts. Such was the case with the Jazztet, a heavyweight ensemble briefly co-led by trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist Benny Golson. Unfortunately, four of the six albums the group would record were done for the Chicago-based Argo label, an imprimatur that has had a checkered past in terms of reissues and salvaging of what has become a very neglected catalog. In addition to the acknowledged quality of the music at hand, the lack of previous availability makes this boxed set an extremely valuable document to fans of both Farmer and Golson.
The Jazztet: Argo Sides
Beginning in 1960, the Jazztet would begin documenting their music for Argo, the jazz wing of the Leonard Chess empire. Of the albums Meet the Jazztet, Big City Sounds, The Jazztet & John Lewis, and The Jazztet at Birdhouse, only the first and last of these titles has been available on CD in recent times, the other two showing up only on pricey Japanese imports. The group's maiden voyage from 1960 boasts the debut of a young McCoy Tyner and such gems from the Golson cannon as "Blues March, "Killer Joe, "I Remember Clifford, and "Park Avenue Petite. None of the tracks clock in at much longer than 5 minutes, but there are plenty of minor masterpieces in terms of solo work and the ensemble sound is quintessential hard bop at its best.
The live set is a top-drawer collection in terms of the opportunity it provides to hear this band stretching out more at length. By this point, Tyner was spelled by Cedar Walton and Curtis Fuller was replaced by Tom McIntosh, but without any unfavorable effects. Also fundamental to a true understanding of the Jazztet's modus operandi is the set featuring the writing of John Lewis. Favorites such as "Django, "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West, and "Odds Against Tomorrow take on a fervent new life in the hands of this group, although they retain a large degree of the "thorough composed nature of Lewis' works.
The Jazztet: Mercury Sides
In 1962, Farmer and Golson decided to make the move with producer Jack Tracy from Argo to Mercury Records. They did so with an entirely new band featuring trombonist Grachan Moncur III, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Herbie Lewis, and drummer Roy McCurdy. Within the span of three months, the group cut two records for Mercury, namely Here and Now and Another Git Together. The first album included such trinkets as a take on Ray Bryant's "Tonk and Moncur's "Sonny's Back. Moncur played a particularly efficient role in this band as a player and composer, his "Space Station from the second record pointing towards the free-thinking approach that he would utilize a year later on his Blue Note debut, Evolution.
The Art Farmer Argo & Mercury Sides
While the Jazztet was active and while both Golson and Farmer continued their roles as studio musicians recording with a wide variety of artists, the two also led their own sessions for both Argo and Mercury. Farmer's two quartet sets from '60 and '61 are eloquent sleepers that put to the forefront Farmer's highly melodic and burnished tone. Perception is arguably the better of the two, with Harold Mabern adding a few extra sparks and some smart Farmer originals helping to up the ante. The pick of the crop though is Listen to Art Farmer and the Orchestra a 1962 affair for full orchestra arranged by Oliver Nelson and featuring a bevy of New York's finest such as Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland, Jim Hall, and Tommy Flanagan. The charts are beyond the ordinary and Farmer flourishes in this creative environment.
The Benny Golson Argo & Mercury Sides
On his own, Golson cut three more albums that are included here. The 1960 session Take a Number From 1 to 10 is an oddity in that its theme sports Golson playing solo on the first track and then adding a musician on each additional track so that by the end of the record he's part of a ten-piece band. Despite the novelty factor, there's some great Golson to be heard here and this one has only been briefly sampled in the past by a compilation disc that included only a few of these tracks. The other two projects dating from 1962 are Turning Point and Free, both being quartet dates of the blowing variety, the former with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, and the latter with Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, and Arthur Taylor. It is on Free that Golson really opens up and steps forward for some of his best solo work on record, this neglected set worthy of significant rediscovery.
Over the course of seven discs, this set covers a good deal of ground and brings to light a large amount of music that previously could have only been acquired through Japanese imports. The 20-page booklet includes session photos and commentary and the 24-bit remastering adds a brilliant sheen to these iconic performances.
All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111.
Personnel include Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Oliver Nelson, Tommy Flanagan, Harold Mabern, Grachan Moncur III, and many others, 95 tracks on seven discs.