Oddly, few saxophonists choose to imitate Paul Desmond's sound. Even Lee Konitz, whose timbre is comparable, attracts more imitators, perhaps because of his angularity and his adaptability to virtually any configuration of musicians or any musical concept. While Desmond's sound within the Dave Brubeck Quartet of course is as well-known as Brubeck's himself, Desmond's coolness remains pristine and unique, even though a generation has passed since his death. In contrast, consider Bird's and Coltrane's musical descendants.
Perhaps a reappraisal of Desmond's music is due. Mosaic has re-released the Paul Desmond sessions with Jim Hall. And now Label M has compiled selections from Desmond-led albums stretching from the early sixties, through his A&M years and up to some of his final recordings with guitarist Ed Bickert.
It seems that the producers weren't quite sure what to do with Desmond's sound. Seemingly too pure for jamming, his tone suggested that strings or full-scale arrangements were necessary to create a soundscape for its fulfillment. That wasn't true. Some of Don Sebesky's arrangements for the A&M albums, represented on Lemme Tell Ya 'Bout Desmond by "El Condor Pasa" and "Samba With Some Barbeque," sacrifice Desmond's distinctive improvisational style for cumbersome orchestrations that became ends unto themselves.
Rather, the small group recordings are those wherein Desmond shines the brightest. His Two Of A Mind album with Gerry Mulligan, pianoless and contrapuntal to the extreme, remains a classic. The two saxophonists' unhurried interpretation of "Stardust" meanders through the changes in a conversational style. The tracks involving a quartet with Jim Hall, Connie Kay and Eugene Wright comprise the majority of the compilation's time, as they should. This classic group highlights Desmond's and Hall's personalized styles that makes difficult phrasing seem simple. One is left to wonder whether Desmond, if he had lived longer, would be acknowledged today as a supreme practitioner of his instrument, as Hall now is. Finally, Desmond's 1974 Columbia track with Ed Bickert, Ron Carter and Connie Kay, "I'm Old Fashioned," reinforces his strength within a quartet that includes guitar.
Lemme Tell Ya 'Bout Desmond is the first in a series of Lemme Tell Ya 'Bout albums that Label M intends to produce. Producers Joel Dorn and Stewart Levine instantly decided that Desmond should be the first for rediscovery, even though they have worked with numerous legends like Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Charles Mingus. Their determined righting of some of the neglect of Desmond may lead another generation to understand his timeless appeal.
I'm Old Fashioned; Skylark; Take Ten; Stardust; When Joanna Loved Me; Desmond Blue; Taste Of Honey; Bossa Antigua; The Night Has A Thousand Eyes; Alianca; El Condor Pasa; Samba With Some Barbeque (Total Time: 57:33)
Paul Desmond: Alto Saxophone; Ed Bickert, Gene Bertoncini; Jim Hall; Guitar; Connie Kay, Jack DeJohnette, Robert Thomas: Drums; Ron Carter, Eugene Wright, Milt Hinton, Wendell Marshall: Bass; Bob James, Piano; Gerry Mulligan: Baritone Saxophone.
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