Various Artists Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions (1953-62) Mosaic Records
The joy, camaraderie and enthusiasm reflected on Mosaic's Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions (1953-62) grabs the heart, soul and mind. The listener yearns to dance to it, sing with it, even take up an instrument and play along. One listen and you will want to join in the fun.
Instead of featuring simply one artist, this amazing 8-CD set has Mosaic taking selected sessions from various musicians. Leading the sessions are the likes of Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Illinois Jacquet, Herb Ellis, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Coleman Hawkins and Harry "Sweets" Edison. Musicians, currently caught between "rock/rap" and a hard place, but still with much to say.
Braff and his golden trumpet take up the first CD with a series of dates, ranging from an intimate quartet meeting to an assertive KC swing session with the likes of Lawrence Brown, Coleman Hawkins (in top form) and Freddie Green laying down the incessant rhythm. Braff never sounded as iridescent as on the amber "Indian Summer" or on "It's Been So Long," with the radiant trumpeter having a simple guitar rhythm for backing. These sessions bring to light long overlooked gems just waiting to be mined.
Throughout many of these sessions, be the leaders Burrell, Ellis or Clayton, the "journeymen" sax players all but steal the show. Buddy Tate is at his bluesy best. Baritone Ernie Caceres is assertive and robust. Earl Warren actually gets a rare opportunity to solo on alto and clarinet on "Swingin' Along on Broadway" and "Moon Glow."
And where did Mosaic discover the likes of Marlowe Morris? In the past, Mosaic has resurfaced needlessly neglected or forgotten artists (Herbie Nichols, Serge Chaloff), and even previously introduced artists that all but a few have heard (Brick Fleagle, Lem Davis). But, just when there is no one left to get excited about, here comes Morris, Hammond B-3 in tow, who swings the living daylights out of "Sympathetic Blues", "Moonlight in Vermont" and others. Along with Tate (tenor), he exudes pathos during a definitive reading of "I Loves You, Porgy." Tate's full, breathy sound drips with agony on each note. Morris, with Clayton, stomps and grinds through "I Want a Little Girl." This is the kind of music that was made for pool halls.
In what is possibly the first "concept" album, Clayton brings together a stellar set of ex- Basie colleagues, adds Jimmy Rushing and Ada Moore on vocals, and proceed to grind through a "lover's quarrel" via alternating singers on tunes like "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" and others. The hilarious juxtaposition of songs makes more great commentary.
The Hawkins/Terry and Webster/Edison sessions feature swinging era stars still shining in the modern times. Webster's tone rolls in like the fog in San Francisco Bay; his verse and chorus on "My Romance" is simply breathtaking. Hawkins at the tail end of his life, growls like an aging king of the forest. Edison is in peak form during his moments in the light, playing characteristically sanguine on "Did You Call Her Today" and "Kitty." None of these men break new ground on these sessions, but that hardly matters.
Producer George Avakian succinctly sums up these priceless sessions, "I've always thought it was easy to sound good in those days. All those guys knew and respected one another. It seems to me that very few musicians now know how to play together this way. It's pretty largely lost."
Click here for track listing and personnel.