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Gerry Mulligan: Gerry Mulligan: The Emarcy Sextet Recordings

C. Andrew Hovan By

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While there are many reasons why the cool jazz movement on the west coast was a somewhat short-lived era, one of the key aspects of its quiet demise was the decidedly harder-edged music coming out of New York at about the same time period. Back around 1955, hard bop was making its ascendency and this might shed some light on how it's possible for the great music recorded by Gerry Mulligan's sextet to have been so blatantly ignored. Truth be told, some of Mulligan's early work was decidedly more reserved and well-mannered, yet the vital music heard on this new 5 LP set fills in the gaps of his development and deserves a far better fate than it has earned over the years.

Mulligan had regularly avoided a chording instrument in his ensembles and this is the case with the sextet documented here on five different occasions, between September of 1955 and September of 1956. The front line features Mulligan's baritone sax along with trumpeter Jon Eardley, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. Somewhat of a precursor to the larger Concert Jazz Band, this foursome gets its backing solely from bass man Peck Morrison and Dave Bailey. The results are a full, but wide open sound that shows Mulligan's reach beyond the polite restraints of cool jazz.

If one was following Mulligan back in the day, this small blip might have seemed inconsequential at best. Two albums were released by Emarcy at the time-Presenting the Gerry Mulligan Sextet and Mainstream of Jazz. The public widely ignored these LPs, even if the critics spoke favorably of the results. Right after replacing the trumpet and bass chairs with Don Ferrara and Bill Crow respectively, Mulligan himself disbanded the sextet completely and went on the road with a quartet. The only thing further to come from these sessions was a mid-sixties collection entitled A Profile of Gerry Mulligan and two Japanese-only packages put together in the '80s. Obviously, the sextet easily fits the bill of a rara avis, making this release cause for celebration.

There is a bristling spirit to much of the music heard here, with Zoot Sims's more muscular approach proving a perfect foil to Mulligan's lighter tone. The tempos are generally of the medium to fast variety, with ample thought given to ensemble voicings and textural variety. Tracks like "Apple Core" boast Brookmeyer's witty and incendiary approach. Even Mulligan hints at the more visceral strains of contemporary Pepper Adams on "Elevation." Both Mulligan and Brookmeyer also play piano on a couple of cuts.

Those not familiar with Eardley are in for a treat. While his own work lies more solidly in hard bop territory, his sound and approach here are almost like a mix of Dixieland and be-bop. Think Rex Stewart meets Fats Navarro and you'll get somewhat of an idea. As for Bailey, the first sessions in 1955 happen to be his first recordings. Like Osie Johnson and Grady Tate, Bailey is a tasteful drummer who eschews the flashy in favor of pure musical support. Check our Bailey's fills as he trades solos with all the horns on "Makin' Whoopee" to get the lowdown on this underrated musician.

Typical of Mosaic sets, production qualities are top notch to say the least. All the LPs were flat and free of defects, the vibrant sound being enhanced by the work of Kevin Reeves and Ryan Smith, who both had access to the original mono master tapes. The booklet includes vintage photos, an introduction by Michael Cuscuna, and reprints of the original liner notes. It all adds up to what might be one of the best reissues of 2016!

Associated equipment used for evaluation:
VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso V.2 Ebony cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner

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