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More Unusual Reissues from Verve: Mini-LPs

David Rickert By

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At Newport
The Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory & The Cecil Taylor Quartet

A strange pairing, to be sure, but also a reminder of how diverse and exciting the Newport Jazz Festival used to be. One could go to hear Louis Armstrong, for instance, yet get turned on to the unknown musician who immediately followed him. This CD works like a small version of the festival-those who pick up the CD because they are fans of one artist will likely be pleasantly surprised by the other.

At the time of this particular festival Cecil Taylor was at the start of his career, and those who only know him from his later avant-garde experiments will be surprised to find actual melodies in these performances. There’s quite a bit of Monk (and maybe a sprinkle of Brubeck) in Taylor’s renditions of Strayhorn and the blues, yet one can clearly hear him itching to break free from convention; after all, Unit Structures wasn’t too far over the horizon. Taylor’s busy pounding as he scatters notes in odd rhythms was surely a deliberate avoidance of the obvious (when Taylor says he will play a blues, no one should be surprised that what comes next seems hardly that). The rhythm section plays it straight, but Lacy is startlingly shrill and piercing, clearly an ideal companion for Taylor and his unique conception. Those who have stayed away from Taylor in the past because his music is too challenging may very well find this one a treat.

The flip side is slightly less satisfying, simply because Gryce and Byrd provide nothing more than a straightforward hard bop session. The Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory only existed for a brief period of time and was recorded infrequently, making this brief session a worthy reissue. Everyone plays exceptionally well, contributing some masterful solos, but after the Taylor side one can’t help but be let down by how straightforward this session is. Excellent hard bop, but hardly anything special. Still, at only twenty minutes long the Gryce/Byrd side is an excellent chaser for the Taylor material, which is also of a manageable length.

Mr. Clarinet
The Buddy DeFranco Quartet

The clarinet never quite made the transition from the big band era to the modern age, probably because many found it hard to play the licks of bop on what ultimately is a tricky instrument to master. Thus what used to be the most popular instrument for band leaders quickly became old-fashioned, associated with a time period when people preferred to dance instead of listen.

Buddy DeFranco was virtually the only clarinetist to follow Shaw and Goodman and was determined to find a niche for the clarinet in a music that quickly became dominated by trumpets and saxophones. Mr. Clarinet, one of his first records, demonstrates why he was called the Charlie Parker of the clarinet. By looking at the hard-hitting rhythm section alone, one can detect a forward-thinking group of people who aren’t going to linger in the past. The opener is a lengthy blues tune that would have been par for the course for any saxophonist, but which sounds oddly soulful on a clarinet, DeFranco really throwing out some bluesy riffs. At other points the tempo is kicked up to a pace that would cause many inferior musicians to stumble but which DeFranco handles expertly, peeling off licks with the same nonchalance he would bring to the act tying his shoes. Drew, Blakey, and Hinton, are superb, as is to be expected. All of this is a far cry from an instrument we normally associate with bubbles and champagne instead of small group jazz. A thoroughly enjoyable session.

Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof
Cal Tjader

By 1965 when this record was made most people associated “soul” with Motown instead the Verve label and if anyone bought this record expecting something along the lines of the Temptations, they were sorely disappointed. Jazz fans, however, knew Cal Tjader as a master vibraphonist who was a fixture on the West Coast scene as well as one of the most successful at fusing Latin music and jazz into new ideas. The head-scratching title aside, Tjader and his working group are in fine form, working through a few originals, some Latin tunes, and some standards given a Latin spin. Tunes like “The Prophet” feature lovely melodies and give the players ample opportunity to breeze through a few solos. However, if there’s one drawback to the record, it’s that everything seems a little too slight, like leaves being blown around by the wind, and one wishes that the group wouldn’t seem quite so at ease. Certainly the presence of Richard Davis and Grady Tate would suggest a more heated and edgy exchange of ideas, but both seem content to stay in the background. A decent album, but those who already have some of Tjader’s records will find this one overkill and those unfamiliar with his work would be better off grabbing something from his Prestige years.

The Gigi Gryce/ Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory and the Cecil Taylor Quartet At Newport
Tracks: 1. Johnny Come Lately 2. Nona’s Blues 3. Tune 2 4. Splittin’ 5. Batland 6. Love For Sale.
Personnel: The Cecil Taylor Quartet: Cecil Taylor-piano; Steve Lacy-soprano sax; Dennis Charles-drums; Buell Neidinger-bass. The Gigi Gryce/ Donald Byrd Jazz Workshop: Gigi Gryce-alto sax; Donald Byrd-trumpet; Hank Jones-piano; Osie Johnson-drums; Wendell Marshall-bass.

The Buddy DeFranco Quartet-Mr. Clarinet
Tracks: 1. Buddy’s Blues 2. Ferdinando 3. It Could Happen To Me 4. Autumn In New York 5. Left Field 6. Show Eyes 7. But Not For Me 8. Bass On Balls.
Personnel: 1. Buddy DeFranco-clarinet; Kenny Drew-piano; Art Blakey-drums; Milt Hinton-bass.

Cal Tjader-Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof
Tracks: 1. The Whiffenpoof Song 2. Soul Bird 3. How High The Moon 4. That’s All 5. Soul Motion 6. Reza 7. The Prophet 8. Sonny Boy 9. Doxy 10. Samba De Orfeu 11. Shiny Silk Stokcings 12. Daddy Wong Legs.
Personnel: Cal Tjader-vibes; Richard Davis, Terry Hilliard-bass; Paul Griffin, Lonnie Hewitt-piano; Sol Gubin, Grady Tate, John Rae-drums; Armando Peraza-percussion.

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