Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet with Chet Baker is commonly cited as an early artistic apogee in the careers of both its frontline participants. Less widely lauded, Mulligan’s other quartet with valve trombonist/pianist Bob Brookmeyer, which followed on the heels of the Baker association, was every bit as creatively prosperous and this pair of concerts reissued by Pablo paints their sonic portrait in bold colors.
Both engagements were Norman Granz productions as part of his widely popular Jazz At the Philharmonic enterprise (hence their Pablo pedigree) and the promoter; ever the impresario includes his spoken introductions as a preface to each concert. Sound quality is unusually excellent with all instruments well balanced and preserved. There are no real surprises in terms of songbook with both quartets drawing on selections from Mulligan’s usual stable of charts, but the earlier rhythm section with Benjamin and Bailey has the slight edge in terms of supple swing. A bubbling version of “Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are” with tight horn harmonies and a busy, but by no means overbearing backdrop by bass and drums whets the Hollywood audience’s appetite. “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” another Mulligan favorite offers clever contrast by moving the band into ballad mode. The bouncing “Bweebida Bobbida” resumes a scampering pace and Mulligan blows one of his most exuberant solos of against the skittering brushes of Bailey and fast walking underpinning of Benjamin’s pizzicato strings. A brisk series of chases between the horns punctuated by flashy drum breaks rushes the tune to the finish line.
The Paris date, recorded five years later extols an even tighter harmonic interplay between the horns beginning with the set opening slow swing of “Open Country.” The nostalgic “Love In New Orleans” revisits an easy-going Basin Street-style groove as Brookmeyer infuses his solo with gentle growls and smears, and Mulligan adopts an almost clarinet-like tonality on his baritone reed. The centerpiece of the set though both in terms of length and degree of experimentation is the 12-minute version of “Subterranean Blues,” which finds Brookmeyer trading brass for piano and turning in a length exposition behind the keys that builds in logical, but at times surprisingly dissonant increments. Mulligan is similarly methodical in his own solo improvisation expanding on the tune’s melodic core through clever stop-time phrases. Bailey also benefits from the extended duration engaging in some highly creative drum breaks toward the close that elicit wild whistles and applause from the crowd. Considering the vintage and quality of these performances it’s strange that they’ve taken so long to see the light of wide circulation, but the old adage about ‘spilt milk’ or in this case ‘elapsed time’, seems appropriate as well.
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Track Listing: Introduction by Norman Granz/ Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are*/ Baubles, Bangles and Beads*/ Laura*/ Bweebida Bobbida*/ Utter Chaos*/ Introduction by Norman Granz/ Open Country/ Love In New Orleans/ Four For Three/ Subterranean Blues.
Personnel: Gerry Mulligan- baritone saxophone; Bob Brookmeyer- valve trombone; piano; Joe Benjamin- bass*; Donald Bailey- drums*; Bill Crow- bass; Gus Johnson- drums. Recorded: August 27, 1957*, Hollywood, CA and October 6, 1962, Paris, France.