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OJC Rides Again: Bill Evans & Mal Waldron


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Although it wasn't coined specifically for the collection, the idea of an "embarrassment of riches" is perfectly suited to describe the vast holdings of the Fantasy Records firm. Starting out as a small west coast concern, their success with the group Creedence Clearwater Revival allowed them to expand their operations in 1971. The address of Tenth and Parker in Berkeley is synonymous with some of the greatest jazz ever recorded.

In 1982, Fantasy took advantage of their vault collection which included the catalogs of the labels Prestige, Galaxy, Milestone, Riverside, Jazzland, Debut, Contemporary, and Pablo. The Original Jazz Classics Series was born and over the course of the next several decades the reissue program would bring to light more 850 titles that were admired for their stellar remastering and the use of original art work.

In 2004, Fantasy was sold to a corporate conglomerate that ended up being called the Concord Music Group. Understandable changes in structure and philosophies resulted in the eventual demise of the OJC series. Most recently, Concord lauched its Craft Recordings wing and this summer the firm decided to bring back the historic OJC imprint keeping in line with the current vinyl renaissance. These all-analog editions have been mastered by sound guru Kevin Gray, pressed at RTI, and feature tip-on jackets.

Bill Evans
Waltz for Debby
Craft Recordings

In the anals of live jazz recordings, few would argue with the greatness of the music capturing the Bill Evans trio at the Village Vanguard. Caught on tape over the course of five sets on June 25, 1961, the simpatico relationship between Evans and bandmates Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian is the stuff of legend. Producer Orrin Keepnews would assemble several records of this material at the time, the entire output eventually being presented many times over on two-fers and boxed sets.

Perhaps the most-loved record of the bunch, Waltz for Debby covers a good deal of emotional ground over the course of the half dozen tracks contained within. Dropping the stylus on the opening "My Foolish Heart," the sizzle of the cymbals and the swish of Motian's brushes became immediately palpable. Even with piano panned to the right and the drums and bass to the left, the soundstage seemed to spread beyond the room boundaries. In fact, closing your eyes, one can easily visualize the location of a table where customers can be heard talking and clanking their dishes.

On the title track, LaFaro's bass is prominent enough to fool you into thinking you are right there on stage. The strings slapping the fretboard are holographic in their clarity. Furthermore, "Detour Ahead" is the perfect place to admire the in depth interaction between Evans and LaFaro.

Flipping to side two, Motian picks up his sticks for a swinging take on "My Romance." A beautiful tone poem, "Some Other Time" provides ballad fodder before the set end with the bristling "Milestones." Recent issues of the material have sounded quite good, but Gray's mastering takes the sonics to another level. Without hyperbole, it can be stated that this is the best sounding version yet of a beloved album.

Mal Waldron
Mal 2
Craft Recordings

Pianist Mal Waldron's long career was marked by a large catalog of recordings, a brief sidetrack due to drugs, and the subsequent renaissance which included his final expatriate years spent in Europe. Quite the opposite of Evans, Waldron was more interested in the angular and dramatic elements of music. In his first wave of activity, he was fortunate enough to be house pianist for Prestige Records for a brief period in the '50s.

Recorded in the spring of 1957, Mal 2 is a superb hard bop session that has been hard to find at a reasonable price, the first time OJC pressing being long out-of- print. The familiar melody of "From This Moment On" opens the show and gets a facelift thanks to Waldron's unique voicing of the original. The bristling trumpet of Idrees Sulieman is heard at length and it is easy to decern why he should be considered a precursor to later innovations made by Woody Shaw.

Penned for his wife, Jackie McLean's "J.M.'s Dream Doll" is an attractive ballad that proves to be a striking showcase for John Coltrane. The tenor saxophonist also speaks volumes at a brisk pace on Waldron's original, "Potpourri." Heard as a bridge between earlier styles practiced by beboppers like Bud Powell and later trendsetters such as Andrew Hill, Waldron's piano work is often dark and angular. Further volumes for Prestige would establish his credibility as a unique voice, only to be lost to the masses based largely on his expatriation to Europe in the late '60s.

Associated equipment used for evaluation

VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Aida Mk II cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Arcam SDS 50 SACD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner
Solidsteel S3 Series audio rack

Tracks and Personnel

Waltz for Debby

Tracks: My Foolish Heart; Waltz for Debby; Detour Ahead; My Romance; Some Other Time; Milestones.

Personnel: Bill Evans: piano; Scott LaFaro: bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Mal 2

Tracks: From This Moment On; J.M.'s Dream Doll; The Way You Look Tonight; One By One; Don't Explain; Potpourri.

Personnel: Mal Waldron: piano; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Idrees Sulieman, Bill Hardman: trumpet; Sahib Shihab: alto saxophone and baritone saxophone; Jackie McLean: alto saxophone; Julian Euell: bass; Ed Thigpen, Art Taylor: drums.



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