Various Artists The Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions 1953-1962 Mosaic Records
Following the be-bop innovations of the early to mid '50s and the subsequent popularity of hard bop during the '60s, many of jazz music's elder statesmen found themselves in a very precarious position. Swing and Dixie styles had diminished in popularity and many of the jazz clubs that had once presented a wide variety of genres were closing down, leaving many of the more mainstream artists without recording contracts or playing venues. Some critics felt that even as a brief revival of these sounds was finding some lucrative audience among record buyers (i.e. Prestige's Swingville series, Kid Ory's Verve sides, etc.), much of the glory of a bygone era was somehow lacking in the final results. Such a blanket dismissal of this music might cause one to neglect the treasure trove of trinkets that come with this superb eight-disc compilation from the folks at Mosaic.
While artists such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck were at the forefront of Columbia Record's roster during much of the '50s and '60s, the depth of the label's artistic endeavors ran much deeper as evidenced by this set which includes performances by Ruby Braff, Herb Ellis, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Sweets Edison, and Illinois Jacquet. Of the 127 performances gathered here, a whopping 20 cuts are previously unissued. Furthermore, writer Richard M. Sudhalter puts it all into perspective with his insightful commentary, accompanied by many vintage photographs from the actual sessions.
Ruby Braff Sessions
Filling up to the first two discs, we hear music that originally appeared on the 1956 Epic album Braff!. Four additional cuts appeared only on a Phillips EP and two others are previously unissued. The quartet sides find Braff at the top of his form, waxing eloquently with pianist Dave McKenna as the perfect foil. Cuts like "Blue Turning Grey Over You and "Indian Summer remind us that Braff's talents were undeniable even if he somehow didn't garner the accolades he deserved. Even more interesting still are large group sessions with Coleman Hawkins and Lawrence Brown thrown into the mix. The Nat Pierce-Freddie Green-Eddie Jones rhythm section gives things a decidedly Basie-ish character to boot. Then there's an entire previously unheard 1957 nonet date with Pee Wee Russell that is not to be missed, it's unavailability until now inexplicable and unfortunate.
Buck Clayton Sessions
Up next are two discs devoted to various sessions featuring trumpeter Buck Clayton. Five tracks from 1953 oddly find the trumpeter with long forgotten organist Marlowe Morris and his trio. While Clayton adapts well to the blues character of the tracks, Morris can be at times a bit unwieldy in sound and approach. Still, Clayton's muted take on "'S Wonderful is delightful and not to be overlooked. Two 1955 dates were collected on the little known album Cat Meets Chick, with vocalists Ada Moore and Jimmy Rushing part of the large ensembles that also include Budd Johnson, Emmett Berry, Dickie Wells, Sir Charles Thompson, and Jo Jones.
Somewhat of an obscurity, a 1957 set issued on the Phillips label as Buck Clayton Special is another bonus that makes this collection so worthwhile. Texas tenor man Buddy Tate makes the scene and his Hawkins influenced blowing dominates. Trombonist Vic Dickenson and pianist Dick Katz also sound very much at home within the context of such swingers as "Jive at Five and "Thou Swell. The stereo sessions then kick in with 1958's Songs for Swingers, this writer's personal favorite among the Clayton material. Recorded in Columbia's famed 30th Street studios, every cut bristles with excitement and the wide soundstage allows you to feel like you're almost at the center of activity. Emmett Berry and Buddy Tate are again on hand and Herbie Lovelle's crackling drum punctuations ensure a good time is had by all on such definitive cuts as "Sunday, "Night Train, and "Swingin' at the Copper Rail.
Marlowe Morris Sessions
We jump ahead a few years to meet organist Morris once again on his own for 1961 and 1962 dates that found their way to the album Play the Thing. Morris is definitely more out of the theatre organ bag than the bop inflected work of a Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff. His version of "On the Trail is somewhat of an oddity, with Ray Barretto's bongos out of place and the closing chord held much too long. Better are the tracks that add Edmund Hall, Buck Clayton, and Buddy Tate, as Morris seems to be much more restrained and the music is the better for that.
Illinois Jacquet Sessions
The 1962 sessions led by Illinois Jacquet and released on a self-titled Epic album have been widely available before on compact disc. However the five alternate takes that were included on the 1995 reissue are not included here as producers decided they were flawed performances not worthy of issue in the first place. They are not missed, as there's plenty to enjoy, even if most of the tracks don't go much over four minutes. It might be suggested to give this one an extra spin to compare the styles of the baritone saxophonists on the various cuts- namely Charles Davis, Cecil Payne, and Leo Parker. Completing the cache of Jacquet material are eight tracks under the leadership of Kenny Burrell that too have been made available previously. Music that was not issued at the time of recording, this material first saw release many years later and has been most recently compiled on the Euphoria disc Moten Swing.
Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry and Ben Webster/Harry "Sweets Edison Sessions
The early '60s were inconsistent years for Coleman Hawkins. Even within the span of a week of heated recording activity, the tenor man could at once be exulted in his solo work and then merely perfunctory at the next moment. The 1962 performances gathered on Back in Bean's Bag are not Coleman's best work of the period, but there's still a good deal to enjoy here. For one, Clark Terry seems to never be less than exuberant in demeanor and he takes much of the credit for the more likable cuts. So too should credit go to Major Holley, his technique of simultaneous bowing and singing a line heard to good advantage on a few numbers. Much better was the duo of Webster and Edison heard in numbers not issued until many years after the fact. Their delay should not suggest any kind of inferiority as the two acquit themselves well with the support of Hank Jones, George Duvivier, and Clarence Johnson. "Did You Call Her Today? and "My Romance are filled with real moments of passion and Webster still sounds enthused even at this later stage in his career.
Herb Ellis Sessions
While the share of obscure reissued material collected here is plentiful, it might be argued that the Herb Ellis sides are worth the price of admission alone. Only ten of the sixteen tracks were released on the hard to find Midnight Roll LP. Buddy Tate makes valuable contributions as he did in the other sessions heard here, but especially listen to Roy Eldridge as he makes the scene for such gems as "Roy Showed and "It Don't Mean a Thing.
Limited to 5000 copies worldwide, these recordings have never sounded this good before and one has to think that the chances are scarce for single disc reissues of much of this material. Remember that all recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Please visit Mosaic Records for more information.
Track listing: 127 Tracks, including 20 previously unissued performances.
Personnel: Ruby Braff, Herb Ellis, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Sweets Edison, Illinois Jacquet, and many others