Home to the filibustering solo and crowd pleasing barrages of bombast, Norman Granz's JATP extravaganzas were a direct populist affront to the intellectualism that invaded jazz in the wake of the bebop revolution. Often taking a carnival barker's stance Granz made no bones about his emphasis on saturating his concerts with thrills even when it came at the expense of substance. Entertainment was the prime directive and rivalries real and imagined were frequently the flint that sparked the substantial financial success of such events.
Mysteriously sequestered for over a half a century this previously unreleased slice of the JATP spectacle is fairly typical of Granz's winsome formula. Assemble a team of top-tier jazz soloists, choose a handful of time-tested standards, book a prestigious venue capable of reflecting the grandeur of the group, and let the crackling tinder of the talent ignite. The formula works once again from the opening salvos sounded off by Phillips flashy tenor on "Leap Here." Turk picks up the baton tossed by the saxophonist and keeps the tempo brisk above a smoldering rhythm supplied by Jones, Brown and Manne. Bird and Navarro follow suit, but it's Criss that really pops the cork of the champagne bottle on this first track with a solo steeped in equal parts ringing sass and sober agility. The younger understudy also more than holds his own negotiating the contours of "Indiana," one of Bird's favorites and a familiar stomping ground for the ill-fated altoist. Navarro's punchy statement at the tune's midpoint makes clever use of the hall's looming acoustics ricocheting clear articulations off the vaulted ceilings and into the nosebleed seats. The mammoth rendering of "Lover Come Back to Me furthers the intensity of these earlier numbers." Initially preening his balladic feathers Phillips births an inaugural solo that eventually gains steam in a booting display, eliciting waves of crowd-borne wolf whistles and cheers. Turk successfully ups the ante working his well-greased slide through a melodic obstacle course that sends the crowd to its collective feet in a display of adulation that overwhelms the mikes. Mugging like Buddy Rich for the tune's final choruses Manne shrugs off his usual subtlety in a tumbling torrent of press rolls.
The concert second set swaps the bulk of the horn section for Hawkins, with only Navarro staying on board for the resulting quintet. It's almost an even trade. Granz's spoken prelude announcing the pared down band is as uniformly garbled and its early intro for the octet. Fortunately the musicians are far better preserved in the mix. Three short numbers and a grand finale run through of Hawkins' own "Stuffy" make for a concise, but meaty set. The two frontline partners sound well matched, but also take the opportunity to work independently with Bean blending breathy romance on "Sophisticated Lady" and Fats channeling pungent tenacity through his brass on "The Things We Did Last Summer."
Discographical accounts of the concert also mention sets by Ella Fitgerald backed by Phillips, Machito's Afro-Cuban Orhestra and a version of the octet sans Bird. These were presumably excised in the interest of containing the program to single disc size, but strangely, Bob Blumenthal's otherwise conscientious liners make no mention of them. Completists may lament the omission, but the music present provides more than enough to be thankful for.