At long last the "record" bins have more than two or three CD's of Mary Lou Williams, the brilliant pianist-composer-arranger whose career spanned half the century. This album from her mid-career includes 25 cuts (total time = 66 minutes, 51 seconds), with Mary in a variety of formats: solo, trio, quartet, quintet ("Mary Lou Williams Girl Stars") and directing a ten-piece orchestra.
In the 1970's Mary Lou Williams described herself as the only musician who had lived through AND played all the styles of jazz. In fact she was one of the few Swing Era musicians who adopted, promoted and contributed to the innovations of the "bop" era. It's all in evidence on this album - stride, swing, touches of bop rhythms and harmonies in 1945 to full immersion in the modern sounds by 1947, especially on "Kool", with Kenny Dorham on trumpet. If you've never heard guitarist Mary Osborne or vibraphonist Margie Hyams (alumna of the first Herman Herd) you're in for a real treat, with both contributing excellent modern solos as well as ensemble work. The 1947 Milton Orent-F rank Roth Orchestra sounds amazingly like a slightly tamer version of Dizzy Gillespie's big band of the same period (Mary Lou and Orent co-wrote and arranged "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee" for Dizzy's big band).
Mary's solo work includes beautiful treatments of four standards: How High the Moon, The Man I Love, These Foolish Things and Blue Skies. She packs so much into the latter tune it's hard to believe that it only lasts a little over two minutes. Again, there's a synergy with other aspects of Williams' renaissance career. She had recently arranged a version of Blue Skies for Duke Ellington's Orchestra, titled "Trumpets No End", which Duke also recorded in 1946.
Also noteworthy are a very hip version of Dvorak's "Humoresque" and one of the first jazz waltzes, "Waltz Boogie", probably one of the most interesting tunes of its time, full of intricate piano and bass figures, modern rhythms and harmonies.
For me the only low point of this album is the insipid group vocal on "Mary Lou". Otherwise this is a thoroughly enjoyable, frequently eye-opening CD from a creative high point in the amazing career of one of jazz' greatest talents.