These three CDs are flagship releases from the Columbia catalog (remember those old blue Columbia Jazz Masterpieces editions?) and it's worth contemplating how fertile and varied a jazz scene existed in the late 1950s when you look as these albums as a trio, and perhaps throw in trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue
(Columbia, 1959) as well. Each is among the best known recordings of the respective artist's career, and essential library items for the burgeoning jazz fan. It's always good to be reminded of their existence, even if most fans have them already.
To say that Time Out was pianist Dave Brubeck's breakthrough is quite a statement, considering that he was already a large draw at college campuses. But Time Out was one of those albums that seems to have dropped in from another planet, a once in a lifetime burst of inspiration that defines a career. It's ironic that Time Out is one of the flagship albums in the Columbia catalog since it's one that almost never got released. The execs figured no one could dance to the odd time signatures, and no one would want a record of just originals. However, once "Take Five" (written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond) took off, Brubeck's place in jazz (and popular music) was cemented. Time Out still sounds terrific today, and Brubeck's main accomplishment here was not writing songs in odd time signatures, but making those songs seem like they were ordinary danceable tunes. Brubeck rode the gimmick for a few more albums after this, but never with as much cool and grace as here.
The anniversary release includes no extra tunes (judging by previous reissues, none exist) but instead includes a terrific 30 minute DVD on the making of Time Out as narrated by Brubeck himself. Brubeckophiles will learn nothing new, but it's still a treat to see the old man wax poetic about his greatest achievement. There's also a bonus feature where Brubeck shows how to play a song using the various angles feature that DVD playback affords. The anniversary edition doesn't sound any better than the last reissue of this classic, but the DVD is certainly something new and fun.
Mingus Ah Um
Mingus Ah Um is unquestionably bassist Charles Mingus' most commercial album, and thus the one that got many hooked on his peculiar brand of big band instrumentation. However, those who looked for another Mingus record like it would never find it, since Mingus was never this polished and crisp before or after. Take "Fables Of Faubus" for example; a scathing work when performed with its lyrics, this instrumental version sound like something straight from a Henry Mancini score. But this is a terrific record by anyone's standards filled with crisp riffing and nimble solos from frequent Mingus collaborators like saxophonists John Handy and Booker Ervin, and pianist Horace Parlan. Along with "Faubus" there are also Mingus gems like "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "Better Get It In Your Soul" in their definitive versions. True jazz classics.
The anniversary edition includes a few outtakes and alternate takes and, surprisingly, the entire Mingus Dynasty (Columbia, 1959) album, which bears only a fleeting relationship to Mingus Ah Um. Mingus Dynasty is still a terrific record and a lot more like the Mingus of the Impulse! years: loose, raucous, and boisterous. Most of the music here was created for television or movies, and has that background music feel that sketches tend to have. But there's a lot here that's kind of like Mingus, and some fantastic soloing.
Sketches Of Spain
Those looking for a follow up to trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue were greeted by a sequel of sorts to the previous record, Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1958). Both were collaborations between Davis and arranger Gil Evans, Sketches Of Spain being the third between the duo. To most people this one is the weakest of the lot, but that's still high praise for what was one of the most fruitful collaboration ever in jazz. Here Evans' melancholy arrangements, rendered with a Spanish flair, are the perfect background to Davis' plangent trumpet. It's lovely, haunting music that takes orchestral writing and playing in a new direction. Davis never pursued anything quite like it afterward.
The second disc includes several Sketches Of Spain outtakes and alternate versions. Probably of interest to only the most zealous, since in some cases, once full immersed in the track, the take stops.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Blue Rondo a la Turk; Strange Meadowlark; Take Five; Three To Get Ready; Kathy's Waltz; Everybody's Jumpin'; Pick Up Sticks.
Personnel: Dave Brubeck: piano; Paul Desmond: alto sax; Eugene Wright: bass; Joe Morello: drums.
Mingus Ah Um
Tracks: CD1: Better Git It In Your Soul; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Boogie Stop Shuffle; Self-Portrait In Three Colors; Open Letter To Duke; Bird Calls; Fables of Faubus; Pussy Cat Dues; Jelly Roll; Pedal Point Blues; GG Train; Girl of My Dreams; Bird Calls (Alternate Take]. CD2: Better Git It In Your Soul (Alternatve Take); Jelly Roll (Alternative Take); Slop; Diane; Song With Orange; Gunslinging Bird; Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Far Wells, Mill Valley; New Now, Know How; Mood Indigo; Put Me In That Dungeon; Strollin' (Nostalgia In Times Square).
Personnel: Charles Mingus: piano, bass instrument, upright bass; Seymour Barab, Maurice Brown: cello; Jerome Richardson; flute, baritone saxophone; John Handy: clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Shafi Hadi: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Benny Golson, Booker Ervin: tenor saxophone; Richard Williams, Don Ellis: trumpet; Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis: trombone; Horace Parlan, Roland Hanna: piano; Teddy Charles: vibraphone; Dannie Richmond: drums.
Sketches Of Spain
Tracks: CD1: Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio); Will O' the Wisp; The Pan Piper; Saeta; Solea; Song of Our Country. CD2: Maidz of Cadiz; Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio) (Rehearsal Take, incomplete); Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio) (Alternate Take, Part One); Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio) (Alternate Take, Part Two); Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio) (Alternate Ending); The Pan Piper; Song of Our Country (Take 9, without intro); Song of Our Country (Take 14, slower tempo, without intro]; Saeta (Full Version of Master); Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio) (Live); Teo.
Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet, flugelhorn; Janet Putnam: harp; Harold Feldman: flute, clarinet, oboe; Eddie Caine: flute, flugelhorn; Albert Block: flute; Danny Bank: bass clarinet; Romeo Penque: oboe; Jack Knitzer: bassoon; Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal, Johnny Coles, Taft Jordan, Bernie Glow: trumpet; Tony Miranda, Joe Singer, John Barrows, James Buffington, Earl Chapin: French horn; Dick Hixon, Frank Rehak: trombone; Jimmy McAllister, Bill Barber: tuba; Paul Chambers: upright bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums; Elvin Jones, Jose Mangual: percussion; Gil Evans.