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Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones

Greg Simmons By

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Trumpeter Thad Jones' greatest notoriety was as a member and leader of large ensembles, including the Count Basie Orchestra and later the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. But as great as his big band work was, it's a shame he didn't dedicate more time to small combos. He recorded a handful of really first-rate dates for Blue Note in the mid-1950s—chief among them, perhaps, 1956's The Magnificent Thad Jones. It's timeless music that reveals a musician with great chops, fine composing and arranging skills, and a serious understanding of the blues.

"April In Paris" sets the mood for the date, the standard swinging softly with Jones' graceful delivery. His improvisation has an almost vocal quality to it, with vibrato and melodic truth. Moving into the first original, "Billie-Doo," Jones wears his blues on his sleeve, using tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell as a second comp alongside the great pianist Barry Harris. Mitchell adds to the improvisational canon, drawing on elements of Ben Webster and Charlie Parker to create a smoky soundscape. This is a band that has clearly absorbed the structures of bebop, but with Jones' guidance the music is slowed, becomes deeper, and delivers greater expressive content.

Perhaps the greatest moment of the date combines all these elements, as Jones savors the melody of "If Someone Had Told Me." It's taken as a trio, with just Harris and the light swish of Max Roach's brushes. There may be more beautiful, more emotionally packed trumpet recordings out there, but not many.

In the continuing vinyl resurgence, The Magnificent Thad Jones has now been reissued on two 45 RPM LPs by the wizards at Music Matters, whose entire raison d'être is to meticulously reissue classic Blue Note sessions. Only the original master tapes are used as sources to press what are likely the finest editions of these records ever cut. In this case, the album is a true monaural recording. Perhaps not quite so revealing as the series' mono champ, Gil Melle's Patterns in Jazz (also released in 1956), The Magnificent Thad Jones nonetheless delivers truly outstanding sound with an impressive level of detail. This is a truly exceptional pressing, befitting a premium priced package. The full-sized original album cover is an added bonus: a black and white photograph of Jones smoking a cigarette in a New York streetscape, surrounded by pigeons. It's one of the better Blue Note covers, and the full 12" x 12" cover really does it justice.

A member of one of jazz's royal families, among Thad Jones' ten brothers were Elvin Jones (saxophonist John Coltrane's explosive drummer during the 1960s) and Hank Jones, the elegant and versatile pianist who's longevity may be unsurpassed, remaining active until his death in 2011, at the respectable age of 92. Thad Jones held his own in this esteemed company, and left his own remarkable recording legacy. The opportunity to hear some of his best work, remastered with exceptional attention to detail should be welcome to his fans.

Track Listing: April In Paris; Billie-Doo; If I Love Again; If Someone Had Told Me; Thedia.

Personnel: Thad Jones: trumpet; Billy Mitchell: tenor sax; Barry Harris: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Max Roach: drums; Kenny Burrell: guitar (7).

Title: The Magnificent Thad Jones | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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