Anyone remotely familiar with “Take Five” will recognize Paul Desmond’s dry, feathery alto instantly. However, Desmond often lived in Brubeck’s shadow, and many may not know that Desmond also recorded several fine albums as a leader as well. Brubeck and Desmond had an unwritten contract that the altoist would not play with any other pianist, and Desmond was lucky enough to enlist guitarist Jim Hall as a sideman. Hall has a light, nuanced style more suited to Desmond’s approach than Rollins’ on the previous album, and the two crafted five albums of excellent understated cool jazz.
Cool Imagination is probably all the Desmond that anyone will really need, although the devoted will want to seek out the excellent RCA set that collects all of Desmond’s recordings with Hall. If there’s a fault to this compilation, it’s that the selection leans too heavily on the ballads and the whole thing comes off as a bit maudlin and sentimental; only “Alone Together” documents Desmond’s ability to swing at a faster tempo. Also, the selections from the over-represented Desmond Blue, saturated by orchestration from Bob Prince, sound like the soundtrack to Disney movies and may not be to everyone’s taste. Also included are two fine tracks featuring Gerry Mulligan, off of Two Of A Mind, a disc not included in the RCA box.
Despite its faults, Cool Imagination demonstrates how Hall’s shimmering chords and Desmond’s cool alto were a great match. Fans of Brubeck will definitely enjoy this collection, as will anyone who enjoys the cool school of jazz improvisation.