Various Artists: Select Riverside and Contemporary 20-Bit Reissues

C. Andrew Hovan By

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To compliment their other series of 20-bit remasters, namely the 50th Anniversary collection and titles from the Creedance Clearwater Revival catalog, Fantasy has just added a new set of recordings done in similar limited edition fashion and selected from the Riverside and Contemporary catalogs. Pressed in quantities of 10,000, these titles have been mastered under the supervision of JVC Studio’s Tamaki Beck and they utilize the 20-bit K2 Super Coding System. Unlike a parallel series in Japan utilizing this process and centering on more obscure items from the Prestige, Riverside, and Contemporary catalogs, Fantasy’s stateside discs have focused on more established classics. Still, since most of the albums selected have not been remastered on disc since the late ‘80s or early ‘90s no one can really complain about this new opportunity to gain further sonic pleasures from these iconic masterworks.

Starting with a look at the Contemporary sets at hand, we have the 1955 debut of a West Coast piano master viaHampton Hawes Trio, Volume 1. With Red Mitchell on bass and Chuck Thompson on drums, Hawes turns out the be-bop in a virtuosic manner that certainly had to dispel any myths at the time that only musicians on the East Coast could swing with such abandon and obvious zeal. Tracks such as “I Got Rhythm” and “What Is This Thing Called Love” are clearly of the up tempo bop variety, yet Hawes also proves to be a commanding ballad artist with such crystalline moments as “So in Love” and “These Foolish Things.” A nice calypso beat even marks the start of “Carioca,” only to then give way to a blistering bit of Hawes at his surefire best. Technically speaking, John Palladino’s glorious mono is preserved here and the clarity belies the recording’s true age.

No collection of modern jazz is complete without a copy of Shelly Manne’sMy Fair Lady. This 1956 standby has seen many incarnations, but this newly remastered version may be the best yet. Fronting a trio with pianist Andre Previn and bassist Leroy Vinnegar, Manne leads the way through selections from Lerner and Loewe’s popular musical. Within the next decade the idea of jazz versions of Broadway scores and TV themes would become commonplace, but when Manne and his men put this one together it was a relatively novel concept. Much of the staying power of the score can be attributed to the classic status obtained by such individual gems as “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “On the Street Where You Live.” Previn never lets his orthodox technique get in the way of the swing and Manne is a master of brushwork throughout. The arrangements are also anything but commonplace, helping to make this one of the most popular jazz records of all time.

Shelly Manne also makes the scene with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Brown on the inaugural release ofThe Poll Winners. Alluding to the fact that each musician was a winner in the 1957 polling of the magazines Down Beat, Metronome, and Playboy, this simple combination of guitar, bass, and drums constituted a prototypical example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The opening “Jordu” is as choice as any selection for appreciating the interplay between this threesome. Kessel and Brown mesh perfectly and Manne utilized all of the resources at his disposal, rapping on tom-toms with his knuckles while applying pressure on the drum skin and thereby changing the drum’s pitch. “Green Dolphin Street” finds Brown setting up an opening vamp with Kessel applying a complimentary staccato line by picking at the strings, a nice touch he comes back to during Brown’s later solo. Taking time out for some long overdue recognition, let it be said that engineer Roy DuNann had to be the West Coast equivalent of Rudy Van Gelder, his close miking technique bringing out every vital nuance. In addition, his early stereo, as can be appreciated here, is among the best ever heard!

Even if he had never recorded another thing over the subsequent decades, alto man Art Pepper’s legacy would have remained secure through the significant chain of record dates he led for Contemporary during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Arguably the best of these,Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, pits the alto man with Miles Davis’ rhythm crew circa 1957- pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Aside from Pepper’s own “Straight Life” and “Waltz Me Blues” and Garland’s “Red Pepper Blues,” all of the tunes are standards, including a bonus performance of “The Man I Love.” This in fact was essentially an impromptu blowing date, yet the chemistry between Pepper and the band is exceptionally strong and no notes are wasted by anyone involved. Again, DuNann’s engineering is simply a marvel and even more so apparent in this latest incarnation.

It’s seems almost redundant to extol the virtues of pianist Bill Evans’ 1961 performances at the Village Vanguard as they have become so firmly etched into the halls of the jazz pantheon. Still, any opportunity to get even more out of these timeless landmarks has to be welcomed and the news then has to be spread. The newly remasteredWaltz For Debbywill have to become part of your collection even if you’ve purchased the album in several formats and umpteen times over the years. It simply sounds that good! Rarely has piano trio jazz been rendered in such a magical way, with the irony being that this would be the last of the trio’s efforts to be caught on tape before the untimely death of bassist Scott LaFaro. Along with drummer Paul Motian and LaFaro, Evans created music for the ages. Enough said.

While alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley had already created quite a few strong titles under his own name for Riverside in the middle to late 1950s, it wasn’t until he inaugurated a bristling quintet with brother Nat in 1959 that things really started to pop and sizzle. With Bobby Timmons at the piano (later to be spelled by Victor Feldman and then Joe Zawinul), bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louis Hayes, the Brothers Adderley would hit the charts with a string of celebrated Riverside albums under the leadership of producer Orrin Keepnews. Recorded live during a month-long stay at the Jazz Workshop,The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Franciscoremains a highlight among the Adderley’s sizable catalogs. Timmons’ “This Here” makes it debut and we get to here Cannonball’s opening remarks and the wry song introductions which would make him the popular attraction that he was among his many leagues of fans. Although not often acknowledged as such, Nat impresses as one of the finest modern trumpeters of the era and the hook-up between Jones and Hayes had already become legendary even at this early juncture.

Finally, we come to another invaluable document, but one where the sonic upgrade is even more useful. An engineer not very attuned to jazz sensibilities, Jack Higgins’ early work for Riverside was inconsistent at best, with the later discovery of Ray Fowler proving to be a welcomed change. Although the Jazzland releaseThelonious Monk with John Coltranehas attained cult status in the main, the sound quality present has always been less than ideal. Things improve a bit in the 20-bit format, making this disc the one to buy. Illustrating the empathy that had developed between Trane and Monk over the course of an extended engagement at the Five Spot, the five main tracks here were recorded in the summer of 1957. Three cuts feature just a quartet with Coltrane, Monk, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Shadow Wilson, another two highlight a larger group with Coleman Hawkins, Gigi Gryce, and Ray Copeland on hand, and the closing “Functional” is simply a solo piano performance.

Title: Select Riverside and Contemporary 20-Bit Reissues | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz


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