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Milt Jackson and Paul Desmond: Elder Statesmen on CTI

Dan Bilawsky By
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Popular music is usually a young person's game. Older artists, in any genre, often get pushed to the periphery to make way for the next big thing that can sell in numbers. But the CTI label was age-blind when it came to its artist roster. While it's certainly true that the stable of musicians on the majority of CTI albums skewed towards the young and the majority of success stories on CTI—like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine—had their biggest album hits as thirty-somethings, that wasn't always the case.

Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and vibraphonist Milt Jackson were both around fifty years old when they produced their most artistically rewarding work for CTI, and both of these albums have been reissued as part of Sony Masterworks' campaign to bring Creed Taylor's productions back to the jazz listening public.

Milt Jackson

Sunflower

CTI Masterworks

1973 (Reissued 2011)

Milt Jackson always made himself feel at home in any musical setting. He was equally comfortable jamming with the likes of trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk, or adding graceful statements within the chamber music-meets-jazz matrix of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Sunflower is just another example of his ability to adapt to his surroundings.

The orchestral trappings that were so commonplace, and occasionally overblown, on CTI albums are dialed down here, as arranger Don Sebesky delivers some of his most tasteful and beautiful backings to cushion the core group. Jackson's "For Someone In Love" is introduced by a Spanish guitar prelude from Jay Berliner, but the focus immediately shifts to Freddie Hubbard's glowing trumpet work, which flows over Jackson's vibes. Drummer Billy Cobham provides some funky touches as he rides the crest of the dynamic wave within the piece, helping to add different dimensions to the music. Sebesky changes things up, providing an orchestral introduction on "What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life," but Cobham takes control, providing a swing feel when Jackson's solo begins.

"People Make The World Go Round" was a hit for the Stylistics and Jackson's then-young sidemen are superb here. Bassist Ron Carter lays down the law, Hubbard is his usual fiery self, and pianist Herbie Hancock delivers a down-and-dirty piano solo, while Cobham drives the music from down below. Jackson sounds a bit like a guest at someone else's party here, allowing the other musicians to dominate within this funky domain, but the song still offers plenty to love, regardless of who's in charge.

After that brief foray into pure funk, Jackson's back in control for Hubbard's "Sunflower," which features some fine harmonizing from both men and benefits from the rhythmic shifts between the introductory feel and the brief and bouncy, Brazilian sojourns that are undertaken by the band. "SKJ," which wasn't part of the original package, provides a much looser setting for the band to simply blow on the blues, and Jackson seems to revel in this environment, making himself at home in a form of music that he had mastered decades earlier.

Paul Desmond

Pure Desmond

CTI Masterworks

1975 (Reissued 2011)

While Milt Jackson lived a full and rich musical life as a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and as a solo artist, Paul Desmond never quite reached the same level of success outside of pianist Dave Brubeck's quartet that he achieved in this unit. This sad fact has little to do with his masterful playing and everything to do with the fact that he didn't seek out opportunities to advance his position within the music world, and that he passed away just a few years after this album was recorded.

In fact, this album, which is one of the finest solo recordings Desmond ever made, only came to be because guitarist Jim Hall nudged his saxophone playing friend out of his comfort zone to go check out a Canadian guitarist named Ed Bickert. This resulted in Desmond's first nightclub gig "on his own ever," as Gene Lees so bluntly said in the original liner notes. The two week engagement that Desmond took, in order to work with Bickert, helped to sow the seeds for this project of sublime readings of standards.

Desmond defines light-hearted gaiety with his takes on Duke Ellington ("Just Squeeze Me") and Jerome Kern ("Till The Clouds Roll By"), delivers gorgeous subtone sounds on another Ellington vehicle—"Warm Valley"—and comfortably strolls through bossa nova territory on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave." Bickert proves to be a good match for the saxophonist, as demonstrated by his less-is-more self-editing that mirrors Desmond's own musical delivery, and the rhythm section is equally in tune with the cool and comfortable vibe of the music.

Pure Desmond is pure magic and an ample demonstration that wisdom and restraint often come with age. Plenty of artists half his age, playing twice as many notes at three times the volume, couldn't match what Desmond achieved here.

Tracks and Personnel

Sunflower

Tracks: For Someone I Love; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life; People Make The World Go Round; Sunflower; SKJ.

Personnel: Player Name: Milt Jackson: vibraphone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Billy Cobham: drums; Ralph MacDonald: percussion; Jay Berliner: guitar; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet, flugelhorn; Phil Bodner: flute, alto flute, piccolo, English horn; George Marge: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute, English horn; Romeo Penque: alto flute, English horn, oboe; Max Ellen: violin; Paul Gershman: violin; Emanuel Green: violin; Charles Libove: violin; Joe Malin: violin; David Nadien: violin; Gene Orloff: violin; Elliot Rosoff: violin; Irving Spice: violin; Charles McCracken: cello; George Ricci: cello; Alan Shulman: cello; Margaret Ross: harp.

Pure Desmond

Tracks: Squeeze Me; I'm Old Fashioned; Nuages; Why Shouldn't I?; Everything I Love; Warm Valley; Tell the Clouds Roll By; Mean to Me; Theme from M*A*S*H; Wave; Nuages (Alt. Tk.); Just Squeeze Me (Alt. Tk.); Till the Clouds Roll By (Alt. Tk.).

Personnel: Paul Desmond: alto saxophone; Ed Bickert: electric guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Connie Kay: drums.

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