Even if he had never played another note following the break-up of the Dave Brubeck group in 1967, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond would have entered the history books as one of music's most brilliant improvisers. During his 17 years with Brubeck, Desmond proved himself to be an indispensable part of that quartet with a wistful and witty sound that he himself described as akin to a "dry martini."
Fortunately, Desmond continued to add to his legacy starting in 1968 with a series of albums done for producer Creed Taylor's A&M/CTI imprint. Although some critics pooh-poohed the results of these sessions, there's a wealth of beautiful music to be found in the catalog. A sagacious choice of material marked the stellar Summertime (A&M, 1969) and the Brazilian tinge of From the Hot Afternoon (A&M, 1969) fit Desmond's pensive style to a tee. Having cut a handful of sides for RCA with guitarist Jim Hall in the mid '60s, when Desmond entered the Van Gelder studios in the fall of 1974, his intent was to return to the earlier guitar-based quartet format. Hall subsequently recommended Canadian guitarist Ed Bickert, who was just starting to establish himself, having worked with Moe Koffman and Phil Nimmons. The resulting album, Pure Desmond (CTI, 1975), would be one of the highlights of Desmond's recording career and provided the impetus to establish a new group with Bickert at the fore.
The former narrative ushers in the period to be documented on Mosaic's latest offering. A week in March of 1975 would bring Desmond and Bickert to the Bourbon Street jazz club in Toronto. In tow would also be bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller. Fortuitously, Thompson was also somewhat of a hobbyist when it came to recording and brought his four-track tape machine along to document the proceedings.
Over the course of that initial week in March and then during a two-week stint in October of 1975, Thompson caught on tape a plethora of amazing music. The first strains of the results were heard when producer John Snyder put out a two LP set in 1976 entitled The Paul Desmond Quartet Live (Verve/A&M). This would be followed by another album on Artist House and a Telarc CD which appeared in 1992. The final results would make available 19 tracks, although another 32 remained in the vaults until now.
Amounting to five hours of previously unissued music, this compendium of seven discs might be some of the finest music Desmond ever recorded. After hearing it all in its entirety, it is confounding as to how producers ever choose among these gems for the initial spate of album releases. Especially rewarding will be close listening to detect the subtle differences in statements over the course of several presentations of the same tunes. Gerry Mulligan's "Line for Lyons" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" weigh in with the most takes over the course of the recordings, getting three performances each.
Just judging by the many pictures in the included booklet, it seems that Bourbon Street was a modest-sized club and the musicians were arranged fairly close to each other. The balance in sound between each instrument is absolutely superb and, overall, top notch, especially considering it was not done professionally. Fuller is a most musical drummer, using brushes eloquently but also switching to sticks often, doing so without overpowering the others.
Bickert is a marvel throughout, casting off solo after solo of beauty and depth. His lush chording also provides a colorful pillow of support for Desmond's alto. Thompson offers strong backing and some melodic solo statements of his own. Also worth noting are the seven cuts done with valve trombonist Rob McConnell, sitting in when Bickert was called away due to the death of his father. Much like what resulted when he paired with Gerry Mulligan, Desmond spins lines in and around McConnell's in a manner that brings out the best in both horn men.
With the bassist part of the production team going back to the original tapes for this project, this music has never sounded better. Typical of Mosaic boxed sets, this one has a limited run of 2500 sets and should quickly become a collector's item once it sells out.
Too Marvelous For Words; Line For Lyons; It Could Happen To You;; Just Squeeze Me;;I Wish I Knew; I Should
Just Squeeze Me; Meditation; Tangerine; Darn That Dream; Nuages; Like Someone In Love; Things Ain’t What
They Used To Be.
Line For Lyons; Wendy; Too Marvelous For Words; When Sunny Gets Blue; Audrey; Darn That Dream; Take
Tangerine; Wave; It Could Happen To You; Emily; Line For Lyons; When Sunny Getz Blue; Things Ain’t What
They Used To Be.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Just Squeeze Me; All The Things You Are; Autumn Leaves; Wave; Nuages; East
Of The Sun; [note: CD and set booklets mistakenly list “I’ve Got You Under My Skin as track 5].
Let’s Get Away From It All; Line For Lyons; Just Squeeze Me; My Funny Valentine; Mean To Me; Wendy;
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.
Wendy; Wave; Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; Nancy; Manha De Carnaval; Here’s That Rainy Day;
My Funny Valentine; Take Five.
All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.
You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.