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Al Cohn: Four Classic Albums Plus

David Rickert By

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Saxophonist/clarinetist Al Cohn could have spent his life as either an arranger or a player, but fortunately he chose to do both, creating a series of records that weren't classics, but nevertheless reached the sublime and poetic elements of jazz. In this collection of four sessions, one is an orchestral session from the fifties, with charts by Cohn; the others are from partnerships, where Cohn tended to do his best work: one from his celebrated collaborations with Zoot Sims; and two with another like-minded fellow, Bob Brookmeyer.

Mr. Music, the orchestra date from 1955, starts off with a zippy "Something For Lisa," to announce the arrival of the band before heading off into more laidback, textured grooves. The charts and tunes are Cohn's with the exception of one tune apiece from Manny Albam, Johnny Carisi, and Ralph Burns, all talented arrangers in their own right. There's a whiff of the cocktail lounge around these recordings, but Cohn cuts through it all with elegant, golden solos at a tender gait. As a representation of the kind of lovely music that can be created with the right arrangements and orchestra, Mr. Music is tough to beat.

The two sessions with Brookmeyer, from 1954 and 1955, are very similar in execution. Both feature splendid playing from the front men, with Brookmeyer's nimble valve trombone providing a nice foil to Cohn's melodic sax. On each session, the group works through a series of standards and originals designed to provide opportunities for the kind of excursions in which jazzmen love to indulge. Both sessions have the cool, breezy swing of the West Coast, despite the players' East Coast pedigrees.

Cohn and Sims (or better known as Al 'n' Zoot) were frequent collaborators, and while Brookmeyer and Cohn diverged in their styles, the two tenor men seem hatched from the same nest, at times one's playing almost indistinguishable from the other. This 1957 session is as good a representation of their music as any. They are at their best while trading licks on up-tempo numbers like "Halley's Comet," an original like many that seem born out of jam sessions rather than deliberate composing. The rhythm section on this date features Mose Allison, Teddy Kotick, and Nick Stabulas—frequent collaborators who seem positively invigorated by the blowing—and provide the two front men a sound bedrock upon which to place their solos.

Rounding out the collection are two Winner's Circle tracks featuring a completely different environment, yet no less interesting for the way Cohn handles himself among what many people would consider to be true heavyweights.

Track Listing: CD1: Something For Lisa; Count Every Star; Cabin In the Sky; Move; Never Never Land; La Ronde; This Reminds Me Of You; Breakfast With Joe; Cohn My Way; The Lady is a Tramp; Good Spirits; A Blues Serenade; Lazy Man Stomp; Ill Wind; Chloe; Shine; Back To Back; So Far So Good; Winter; I Should Care; Bunny Hunch. CD2: It's A Wonderful World; Brandy and Beer; Two Funky People; Chasing the Blues; Halley's Comet; You're A Lucky Guy; The Wailing Boat; Just You, Just Me; Open Country; Jive at Five; Skylark; In the Mode; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Not So Sleepy; Love and The Weather.

Personnel: Al Cohn: tenor sax, clarinet; Gene Quill, Hal McKusick, Sol Schlinger: saxophones; Joe Newman: trumpet; Billy Byers, Frank Rehak: trombones; Sanford Gold: piano; Billy Bauer, Jimmy Raney: guitar; Milt Hinton, Buddy Jones: bass; Osie Johnson: drums; Zoot Sims: tenor sax, clarinet; Mose Allison: piano; Teddy Kotick: bass; Nick Stabulas: drums; John Williams: piano; Bill Anthony: bass; Frank Isola: drums; Bob Brookmeyer: valve trombone.

Title: Four Classic Albums Plus | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Avid Records UK


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