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Impresario George Wein has given the music he loves invaluable support for more than half a century and no one would dare question that. But Wein also insists on being taken seriously as a jazz pianist and bandleader of the Newport All-Stars. His taste in musicians is excellent and his groups have provided gigs and record contracts for superb mainstream players. His long advocacy of Ruby Braff and Pee Wee Russell has been particularly commendable.
This Mosaic reissue captures the Newport All-Stars at 1967 concerts in Mexico and offers irreplaceable playing by the horns (Braff, Russell and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman) and bassist Jack Lesberg. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band is asked to improvise on familiar repertoire often taken at hectic tempos set by the pianist-leader. But Freeman's "Have You Met Miss Jones," Braff and Russell on "Blue and Sentimental" and Russell on the slow "Blues for Puebla" play splendidly, their lyrical solos acting as a rebuke to those who stereotyped them as traditionaljazzmen.
However, these four musicians are consistently held back by the other one-third of this sextet. Wein's piano style attempts to emulate Jess Stacy with a broader harmonic range. Although Wein never hits a wrong note, his playing is relentlessly predictable. His heavy touch and lagging rhythm pull his band mates away from the leisurely swing he so admires in Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller. The frontline was men of strongly defined artistic personality, so they created beautiful solos even when impeded. Don Lamond has far purer jazz credentials, having never produced a jazz festival. But his playing sounds tense, mechanical, and nearly pugilistic. To enjoy this CD fully, it is necessary to listen around the pianist and drummer.
It is to Mosaic's credit that they reissued this CD, for it offers perhaps the last example of Russell at his moving, meditative finest before his last illness. Paradoxically, it is an invaluable primer of jazz rhythm section playingeducating by negative example. Producer Michael Cuscuna's witty liner notes are admirable, wherein he apologizes for the offensively stereotypical cover picture. But it would have been better had this band recorded more often with more congenial personnel.
Track Listing: I Never Knew; All of Me; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Take the "A" Train; Honeysuckle Rose; The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise; If I Had You; S'Wonderful; Blue and Sentimental; Blues for Puebla; Rosetta.
Personnel: George Wein: piano; Ruby Braff: cornet; Pee Wee Russell: clarinet; Bud Freeman: tenor sax; Jack Lesberg: bass; Don Lamond: drums.