Various Artists: Jazz For When You're Alone

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It began with JAZZ FOR A RAINY AFTERNOON, issued over a year ago. Beneath its beautiful cover was a splendid anthology, its gentle, slightly bitter tunes evoking rain and the emotions coming with it. It was a calculated attempt to sell “mood music”, maybe the first in jazz since the now-defunct Moodsville label. And it worked. Two more discs came out (same design, same general format), and all three made Top 15 on Billboard’s jazz chart. This is the latest, and it does more than continue the series. It improves it.

You know you have a keeper when you hear the opening track. A grainy sax starts slowly, and plays a few notes before you realize it’s “Blue Velvet”. The tone is aggressive but wistful, sounding a bit like Gene Ammons or Coleman Hawkins on a ballad date. But no – this is Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson, screamer extraordinaire. Gentle chords come from Mickey Tucker’s piano, with a Red Garland lushness – perfect in this context. As the song progresses and Jackson gets warmer and warmer, we hear full, pretty chords from Pat Martino; his own solo is clean and touched with echo. It’s gentle without being wimpy, and it makes you feel good. It’s a perfect way to open this album.

After the Garlandesque touches of “Blue Velvet”, we get Red himself, from a 1978 session. “The Second Time Around” IS the Red Garland ballad, in all its classic features: the forceful brushes, the dainty scattering of notes, and of course the block chords. It’s a great formula that bears repeating.

Things get a little more forceful when Houston Person shows up. His tenor is plenty warm as he slowly tells us “Everything Happens to Me.” Stan Hope’s piano carries on the Garland sound, and Cecil Bridgewater offers a soft muted trumpet, without the harsh sound this often brings. When Person returns he comes in with force; it’s a sound like Ammons’ with more energy. It’s a welcome sound, and it fits right in.

And now a surprise. Slow cymbals, a big fat bass, and pensive piano explorations. It sounds like Bill Evans until the tremolos start, building strength off the sad chords and the rolling cymbals. It’s Les McCann (from a recently-issued live date), but that ain’t the surprise. Two minutes into it, I looked at the box to see what it was. “Sunny”? It took another minute before I recognized; the theme isn’t fully stated but the chords are there in all their glory. Pop music, nothing – this is pure jazz, of an extra-bluesy variety. It’s ten minutes long, and it’s too short.

The mood set by “Blue Velvet” is carefully maintained throughout the disc; of this series, only RAINY AFTERNOON is programmed as well. Pains are taken to maintain the feeling; Larry Coryell’s “’Round Midnight” gets spacey in its last four minutes, which are not heard here. It’s a skillful edit, giving no evidence of the missing music. I would have liked a note calling this an edited version, but that’s a minor quibble. The edit keeps the mood intact, and that’s important.

Sonny Stitt’s “Sweet and Lovely” gets a big boost from Stanley Cowell’s great piano, and Sonny himself is always welcome. His solo flurries like mad, with an intensity hotter than anything we’ve heard so far. You’d think his energy would be out of place here, but it works well, and Sonny’s sweet tone is extra icing.

A slow trumpet greets us as Wallace Roney weighs in with “Lost”. The horn is open, but it sounds a lot like a Miles Davis ballad. Jacky Terrasson gives us some Garland chords, a common trait on many of these tracks.

Vincent Herring gives us the taste of another alto, in “Stars Fell on Alabama.” It’s gritty, and not as ringing as the Stitt track, but it has its own charm, pushing the number along with its low-tempo surge. Herring also gets lyrical on the closing theme, with an especially warm tag at the end. It’s followed by a muted Donald Byrd, exploring the trumpet ballad much as Roney did. When Joe Henderson comes in, he does so very pure, even like a clarinet in spots. Henderson gets the solo, and he really soars with it. As Byrd is heard only on the theme, it’s really a sax track, but the mute rules the roost when it’s heard.

Near the end we get probably the loneliest sound on the whole album. Phil Woods states “The Summer Knows” with a quavering solitude, the back starting low and gaining strength throughout. As Jaki Byard asserts his presence, Woods gets more aggressive, in a rapid-fire line even more intense than Stitt’s was. He returns to the theme, and the loneliness returns. The final track offers a lyrical Pat Martino, from an excellent duo session with Gil Goldstein. The electric piano chords softly as Pat plays his cascading lines. The notes are sharp and they dance moodily as the chords to “You Don’t Know What Love Is” ring on behind him. It’s soft, bitter, and sweet, just like the song, and it’s a fitting end.

This is probably my favorite of the series so far. It’s full of shuffling drums, lush pianos, and reflective horns. If you like this sort of thing, I cannot think of a better place to get it.

Title: Jazz For When You're Alone | Year Released: 1999


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