Tag Team Jazz, Part 1-2

Nathan Holaway By

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Jazz has always celebrated rugged individuality, praising those who appreciate others but stay on their own path. So what happens when two (or more) intelligent and original musicians come together? Most of the time, pure magic. Stellar tag teams have made some of the finest records in jazz history.

Louis Armstrong / Duke Ellington: The Great Summit: Master Takes (Blue Note, 2001)
An absolute "must have" for any jazz listener, comprised of Louis Armstrong's All Stars with Duke Ellington on the piano, playing all Ellington originals. It's Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington—together. What else needs to be said?
Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Clifford Brown and Max Roach (EmArcy, 1954)
Outstanding. All the tunes that are usually associated with Brown (such as "Joy Spring," "Jordu," and "Daahoud"). Clifford's trumpet is at full peak here, with outstanding support from Roach's wonderfully lucid drum stylings as well as Harold Land on tenor sax. One of the best duos ever.
Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett: Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett (Atlantic, 1971)
A landmark meeting of two of the finest minds in jazz. Period. Jarrett on piano, Burton on vibes, and Steve Swallow on bass, all contribute compositions to this most gratifying album. Every song is a highpoint: Burton's "Grow Your Own" is funky and full of the Burton flavor, while Jarrett's "Moonchild / In Your Quiet Place" and "Raven Speaks" are most reflective and poingnant. Swallow adds a completely new flavor with his Latin-tinged "Como en Vietnam." Must have. You will not be sorry.
Stan Getz / Joao & Astrud Gilberto: Getz / Gilberto (Verve, 1963)
One of the albums that held high popularity during the 1960s bossa nova craze, with all the familiar hits ("The Girl from Ipanema," "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)," and "Desafinado"). With Getz's free cool tenor sax, Joao Gilberto's wonderful guitar stylings, and Astrud Gilberto's voice, this album will take you into the Brazilian breezes over and over again.
Duke Ellington / Max Roach / Charles Mingus: Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962)
What a great meeting! Here Mingus focuses more on his bass playing than on his compositions, with Ellington as pianist and the irreplaceable Max Roach on drums. One would not think that these very different musicians could flow through music with such ease, but they work very well together. Standout tracks include "Caravan," "African Flower," "Warm Valley," "Solitude," and "Switch Blade." Essential.
Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Milestone, 1957)
Mostly recorded at the famous Five Spot during the time when Coltrane claims to have learned a great deal from Monk. Combine Coltrane's ability to play anything with changes and beyond with the angularity of Monk's compositions, and how they can be wonderfully askew, and you have an idea about this session. "Trinkle Tinkle" alone is worth the price. Pure dual genius!
Bill Evans and Jim Hall: Undercurrent (Blue Note, 1963)
The first of two meetings from two logic-minded masters. Only one word comes to mind: Empathy. People talk about empathy all the time in jazz, (Louis Armstrong with King Oliver, Miles' great 1960's Quintet, etc.) but this is truly past that. It's as if Evans and Hall made an instrument that was half guitar and half piano. Most notable tracks are both takes of "My Funny Valentine," "Stairway to the Stars," "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." "Skating in Central Park," "Darn That Dream." Often overlooked, but don't exclude this from your collection any longer.
Eric Dolphy / Booker Little: Far Cry (New Jazz, 1960)
Not much that can be said other than this is one of the greatest tag teams in all of jazz. Sadly, the lives of both Dolphy and Little would be cut short, but this is wonderful testament to what they had when they played together. "Bird's Mother" is very tongue-in-cheek and hilarious at moments, where "It's Magic," and "Serene" are most pensive. Highly recommended.
Gerry Mulligan / Ben Webster: Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster (Verve, 1959)
Mulligan was quoted that this particular session was his own favorite. He claimed that he and Webster had a special "connection," very evident here. Full of originals by both principals, such catchy tunes as Mulligan's "Cat Walk," "Who's Got Rhythm?" and Webster's "For Bessie" and "Fajista," plus the standards "In a Mellow Tone" and "What is This Thing Called Love."
McCoy Tyner Trio with Michael Brecker: Infinity (Impulse!, 1995)
One of the more recent pairings of two great minds, with a great sense of mutual respect and admiration throughout. Definitely NOT a "John Coltrane Quartet" type of recording with Brecker as a mere substitute. Rather, a most wonderous album which explores "Good Morning Heartache," "Mellow Minor," "I Mean You" and "Impressions" at great lengths. Dazzling solos, loads of respect, terrific song choices —a wonderful pairing.
Frank Vignola & Joe Ascione: The Frank & Joe Show -33 1/3 (HYENA, 2004)
Another fairly recent recording that deserves attention. A most underrated guitarist, Vignola constantly exhibits passionate, fiery lines from his gypsy-tinged guitar, loaded in every instancewith logical and tasteful choices. Ascione is one fine drummer, period, whether with brushes, sticks, swing, or bop. Laced with wonderful variety and jazz cameos —Dr. John, Jane Monheit, Janis Siegel —and a cornucopia of scintillating tunes ("Tico Tico," "Mozart Jam (Rondo Alla Turca)," "Besame Mucho," "Spider Man," "Long Train Runnin,'" "Flight of the Bumblebee," and the incomparable "Stardust"). Tell your ears you're in for a treat.
Jazz at the Philharmonic: Live in 1949 (Mercury, 1949)
Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Flip Phillips, and Ella Fitzgerald—this group reads like a "who's who" of jazz legends, and to hear them all playing together is pure bliss! With "Lester Leaps In," "Embraceable You," "How High the Moon," "Perdido" and other tunes, this is a well-recorded jam session from jazz history's greatest talents. By far one of the most succinct examples of jazz tag teams ever recorded. Thank you, Norman Grantz!

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