Mosaic Boxed Set Bonanza

C. Andrew Hovan By

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While it might seem possible that after so many years in the reissue business Mosaic Records would have a hard time drumming up interesting ideas for new projects, the fact is that the label has continued to prosper by identifying and funding viable releases. All the while it has maintained a commitment to the first-class presentation of music that has otherwise been sadly neglected.

The three large Mosaic box sets that debuted in 2006 are no exception in terms of quality and importance. As a common thread, all three sets feature recordings from the Verve catalog and two touch on material from the Argo imprint, a particularly colorful label that has continued to be criminally neglected to this day.

Buddy Rich
Argo, Emarcy And Verve Small Group Sessions
2006 (1953-1961)

Drummer Buddy Rich is largely remembered for his many recordings in a big band setting, but the sides collected on Mosaic's seven-disc set will be a welcome surprise for those not familiar with his small group sessions. What is particularly interesting is the manner in which Rich adapts to these modest ensembles, providing more of a supporting role than was customary in some of his other work.

Trumpeter Harry "Sweets Edison plays a large part in the first of several sessions from 1953 and 1955, the majority of the music being in a relaxed and swinging mood. Things really start to click on the 1956 cuts assembled for the album This One's For Basie, a West Coast assemblage tackling such trinkets as "Jumpin' At The Woodside and "Down For Double as arranged by Marty Paich. Never before reissued, Rich fans will be glad to see the inclusion here of the 1957 album Buddy Rich In Miami, recorded live with a terrific quartet including saxophonist Flip Phillips.

Leaving these more bop oriented sessions behind, Rich fostered a new sound in 1960, forming a group of youngsters that included vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and woodwind player Sam Most. We get to hear this group on the Argo release Playtime and the Verve set Blues Caravan. And as an added bonus, there are 10 cuts from a previously unreleased Argo session that add considerably to the legacy of this fine ensemble.

With Most's flute and Mainieri's vibes there's a lighter overall feel to the music, which allows Rich's more subtle qualities to emerge without all the histrionics that typically would accompany his performances. For those with only a partial appreciation of Rich's talents, the set will do much to confirm his stature as a complete musician.

Oliver Nelson
Argo, Verve And Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions
2006 (1962-1967)

One particular celebrated album has always served as something of a double-edged sword for Oliver Nelson. While Blues And The Abstract Truth is rightly acknowledged as one of the quintessential small group jazz records of the 1960s, it also has proven to be somewhat of an encumbrance, in that many fans have unfairly judged the rest of Nelson's work against this one album. Taken on their own merits, the big band sides assembled here on Mosaic's six-disc set are some of the best of Nelson's career, and a couple of key albums have never been reissued in the entirety before this set.

Things get underway with all the tracks from the 1963 Verve album Full Nelson, a superb offering that highlights some of Nelson's best writing for big band and also puts the spotlight on his alto saxophone playing. Tracks like "Paris Blues, "Miss Fine, and "Ballad For Benny are not be missed, chock full as they are with colorful scoring and cogent solo work. "Hoe Down takes a bow here in a larger setting and "Majorca is a keen example of Nelson's work in a through-composed style. Recorded a year later, the Argo set Fantabulous is a bit looser and not as well presented sonically, but nonetheless is a worthy addition to Nelson's catalog, never before reissued until now.

Fast forward to 1966 and 1967 for the eight cuts recorded for use on a compilation project by Leonard Feather and another half dozen which formed the Jazzhattan Suite, a large work performed by the Jazz Interactions Orchestra. Just listen to Nelson's unique take on "St. Louis Blues for a primer on his value as a prized arranger. Avoiding the obvious ties to the Dixieland genre, Nelson voices the lead melody in darker sonorities, the tempo also taken much slower than usual.

The other two Nelson-led albums included here, Sound Pieces and The Kennedy Dream, further solidify his stature as one of the pre-eminent writers of his generation. The latter album is a particularly moving tribute to a recently slain President Kennedy, with several of the leader's most memorable comments woven into the fabric of the music.

The remainder of this set focuses on recordings by other artists with large ensemble backing being arranged by Nelson. There are cuts from Shirley Scott, Ray Brown & Milt Jackson, Pee Wee Russell, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith. Most of these performances are currently available on the respective albums by these artists, but nonetheless give a fuller accounting of Nelson's activity during the mid to late 1960s. Oddly enough, Nelson's Impulse albums Plays Michelle and Live From Los Angeles are not included here, but that doesn't prevent this collection from becoming one of the indispensable reissues of the year.

Dizzy Gillespie
Verve/Phillips Small Group Sessions
2006 (1954-1964)

As one of jazz music's most memorable and acknowledged giants, it would be reasonable to imagine that the state of Dizzy Gillespie's recorded catalog has been in a relatively healthy state for the majority of the past several decades. This in actuality has not been the case, and Mosaic's new collection will remedy at least some of the neglect that has surrounded the trumpeter's early 1960s recordings for Verve and Phillips.

Of the several Verve sides included on this set, most important are the appearance of Have Trumpet, Will Excite, The Ebullient Mr. Gillespie and The Greatest Trumpet of Them All. Recorded between 1957 and 1960, these albums boast some talented sidemen including Benny Golson, Junior Mance, Sam Jones and Leo Wright. Bop is the order of the day in these short and concise performances full of joy and abandon.

The next phase of Gillespie's development would owe much to the talents of then newcomer, arranger Lalo Schifrin. Always interested in what Jelly Roll Morton dubbed as "that Latin tinge, Gillespie would expand his musical endeavors in these areas with ample assistance from Schifrin. Following the success of a 1961 live concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, collected as An Electrifying Evening with Dizzy Gillespie, the trumpeter would make a move to the Phillips label.

The diversity of music heard over the course of the half dozen albums Gillespie recorded for Phillips is quite remarkable, including covers of Brazilian trinkets, an album of his original score for the film A Cool World, covers of other movie themes, and a revamping of some bop favorites from the 1950s. However, the most unusual set of the lot finds Gillespie in a quartet with Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke and the overdubbed voices of Les Double Six de Paris. While those lines sung in French sound a bit awkward, the vocalese passages mesh nicely with the instrumental prowess of the trumpeter and his pals.


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