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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.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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