Gerry Mulligan / J.J. Johnson / Sarah Vaughan / Misha Mengelberg & Piet Noordijk: Live At Concertgebouw

David Rickert By

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The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam was a stop for quite a few notable jazz musicians during the 1950s and '60s, and for the past few years the Dutch Jazz Archive has released a concert from their archive at the rate of one per year. Judging by what has been released, it seems that many of these musicians did their best work here. Many of them were at the peak of their careers, and European audiences were always eager and enthusiastic for American jazz. The Concertgebouw releases are a significant series of live recordings due to the quality of the musicianship and the excellent sound.

Gerry Mulligan

Western Reunion


2008 (1956)

Gerry Mulligan was one of the leaders of the 1950s' West Coast scene as both a player and arranger. Both are on display in this Concertgebouw outing from the fifties; the baritone saxophonist brought an all-star line-up from the States to show off the kind of coolly swinging jazz that only an eager bunch of Californians could offer. In 1956, when the concert was held, Mulligan and his colleagues were turning in terrific recording after terrific recording for the Contemporary and Pacific labels and thus were caught in their prime here.

Mulligan tended to favor either smaller quartets or big bands, so these sextet recordings are a fortunate discovery. The front line represents a scaled down version of a big band, in which each member represents an entire section: Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Jon Eardley on trumpet, Bob Brookmeyer on trombone and Mulligan on baritone saxophone. Bill Crow on bass and Dave Bailey on drums round out the rhythm section; in typical Mulligan fashion, there is no piano to anchor the front line (except on the rare occasions when he tickles the ivories himself.) This gives the arrangements a lot of breathing room and the tightly interwoven front line on "Mud Bug" and "Demanton" provide such depth and richness that the keys aren't missed.

The music is loose, playful and energetic—between numbers the band engages in some light banter. A couple of numbers make the evening (and the recording) even more special—a quartet reading of "Line For Lyons" with Eardley taking the place of Chet Baker, who played trumpet on the most famous version of the song, and "My Funny Valentine," which begins with just Mulligan and Brookmeyer before the other two horns join in.

The audience was enthusiastic throughout and deservedly so—this was an excellent show. The sound quality is pristine, the players are in top form and the end result is one of the best examples of live West Coast jazz available, proving that the warm climate of the Pacific wasn't an essential ingredient to what these fellows were cooking.

J. J. Johnson

What's New


2009 (1957)

J. J. Johnson wowed the large Amsterdam crowd in this 1957 recording by giving it exactly what it wanted: a program of no frills bop expertly played by a group led by the best trombone player in the world. Johnson had already had his share of fame, recording with saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Miles Davis as well as with his celebrated quintet with trombonist Kai Winding, and his new quintet took the Concertgebouw stage ready to go after a year working together.

Johnson's quintet was rounded out by the Belgian saxophonist and flutist Bobby Jaspar, pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Wilbur Little and drummer Elvin Jones (who would soon join saxophonist John Coltrane's group) for a program of bop warhorses such as "Walkin,'" "I'll Remember April" and "Night In Tunisia." Johnson crisply solos on an instrument not known for it's dexterity, and the fleet-fingered Jaspar contributes tasty solos on both of his instruments. The rhythm section is largely content to frame the front line, although Jones was already brushing with greatness, his novel sense of rhythmic displacement by now apparent.

Unfortunately, this recording is marred in ways the others aren't. For one thing, a couple of tracks are cut short, and Flanagan's piano is miked too low, making his contributions difficult to catch. Still, the overall quality of music makes this worthy of release.

Sarah Vaughan

If This Isn't Love


2010 (1958)

One reviewer of singer Sarah Vaughan's 1958 concert described her particular charms thus: "everything makes an instrumental impression, and the only sensible comparison possible would have to be drawn with the greatest of the instrumental soloists in modern jazz, a Charlie Parker or a Miles Davis." For Vaughan was always more of an improviser than an interpreter, the consummate jazz singer from song choice to approach. If you have any doubts about it, listen to her go toe to toe with Don Byas on "How High the Moon" from this show—trading licks with the tenor saxophonist after engaging in a few scat choruses that pay homage to Ella Fitzgerald's famous solo without being derivative. Only Vaughan could do that.

This was Vaughan's second trip to Holland—the first came in 1954—and a lot had happened since then. She recorded what was arguably one of the finest jazz vocal albums ever with Clifford Brown, and had cemented her place as one of the greatest singers in jazz. What she didn't have was a hit song, and no matter how hard her manager tried, she had struck out every time. Perhaps her skills were too refined for the masses.

At any rate, Vaughan returned to Amsterdam with a brand new band consisting of pianist Ronnell Bright, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Art Morgan for what turned out to be a terrific show. Vaughan had a few favorites that were honed to perfection in earlier shows, such as the opener "If This Isn't Love," "Cherokee," "Lover Man" and "Sometimes I'm Happy." But there's nothing like the way Vaughan playfully reconstructs the melody of "Autumn In New York"—a song designed for Vaughan if there ever was one—and the way she reharmonizes "Body and Soul" into an almost brand-new melody. If there's one thing that Vaughan can do, it's finding interesting tweaks to old chestnuts and, despite the fact that she sang at midnight to a half full hall, she sounds lively and invigorated. The icing on the cake is the aforementioned track with Byas, Arvell Shaw on bass and Wally Bishop on drums, holdovers from a prior concert. Great tunes expertly sung. As the line from "I Got Rhythm" has it: who could ask for anything more?

Misha Mengelberg/Piet Noordijk Quartet



2011 (1966)

1966 was a difficult year to be a jazz musician. Interest in the music was giving way to rock 'n' roll, jazz clubs were closing and many of the best and brightest musicians had trouble finding work. The dearth of players coming to Europe created a thirst for a terrific jazz concert, and once pianist Misha Mengelberg and alto saxophonist Piet Noodijk's quartet hit the stage, that's exactly what it delivered: one of the best jazz concerts of the 1960s, and a true celebration of all the great performers that had influenced its members. The group was actually suffering from a little bit of writer's block and internal turmoil, yet sometimes it's that kind of tension that produces the best music.

Noordijk, like all alto players, is cast as a Charlie Parker disciple, yet his approach bears more similarities to Jackie McLean and Eric Dolphy in that he is always flirting with the atonal and abstract. "Driekusman Total Loss," for instance, begins with a mundane "I Got Rhythm" head before heading off into the free jazz stratosphere. Mengelberg, who was never much of an avant-garde player, still manages to find a way to fight through his introspection to carve out a path behind the altoist. The other members—Rob Langereis on bass and Han Bennink on drums—provide the elastic support that the two leaders need to embark on whatever path they choose, with Bennink hammering out some thunderous solos. "Journey" is one of the nebulous ballads that the more adventurous players in the 1960s were known for; not songs to woo the ladies with, but somewhat unsettling bouts of melancholia.

Trumpeter Ted Curson is the guest for the second half of the show and joins the quartet on two of his originals. "Sugar 'N Spice" is a catchy waltz that the band tears into, "The Leopard" is a fine tune that provides the most focused, hardest hitting playing on the disk.

The eagerness with which the audience approached this concert was palpable, but it got more than it asked for here. It's not surprising that the guys turn in such a fabulous show—this is after all the group that backed Dolphy on Last Date (Emarcy, 1964)—but that the band would turn in one of the best concert recordings of the 1960s was probably unexpected.

Rarely has a series of unearthed recordings been as welcome as these Concertgebouw recordings. All of them are terrific; the Mengelberg/Noordijk is close to classic. Hopefully, there are more gems to be had, coming out more frequently than once a year.

Tracks and Personnel

Western Reunion

Tracks: Introduction; Mud Bug; Nights at the Turntable/Ontet; Ain't It the Truth; Line For Lyons; Demanton/Utter Chaos; Braodway; Sweet and Lovely; The Red Door; I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful); My Funny Valentine; Westwood Walk; I'm Beginning To See the Light; Stars and Stripes Forever; Western Reunion.

Personnel: Jon Eardley: trumpet; Bob Brookmeyer: valve trombone; Zoot Sims: tenor saxophone; Gerry Mulligan: baritone saxophone, piano; Bill Crow: bass; Dave Bailey: drums.

What's New

Tracks: Billie's Bounce; Old Devil Moon; It's Only A Paper Moon; What's New; Walkin'; Everything Happens To Me; Relaxin' At the Camarillo; Bag's Groove; It Could Happen To You; I'll Remember April; Moonlight in Vermont; Undecided; Night in Tunisia.

Personnel: J.J. Johnson: trombone, trombonium; Bobby Jaspar: tenor saxophone, flute; Tommy Flanagan: piano; Wilbur Little: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.

If This Isn't Love

Tracks: If This Isn't Love; Passing Strangers; Mean To Me; Lover Man; Cherokee; Body and Soul; Sometimes I'm Happy; Autumn In New York; I Cried For You; Tenderly; That Old Devil Moon; How High the Moon; If This Isn't Love; Passing Strangers.

Personnel: Sarah Vaughan: vocals; Ronnell Bright: piano; Richard Davis: bass; Art Morgan: drums; Don Byas: tenor saxophone; Arvell Shaw: bass; Wally Bishop: drums.


Tracks: Driekusman Total Loss; Peer's Counting Song; Journey; Sugar 'N Spice; The Leopard.

Personnel: Piet Noordijk: alto saxophone; Misha Mengelberg: piano; Rob Langereis: bass; Han Bennink: drums; Ted Curson: trumpet.

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