Music Reviews

Jazz - Part 13 - February, 2001

Dennis Davis




"Our Man in Jazz"

Sonny Rollins

RCA LSP-2612

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One of the certifiable great classic records has been reissued on Classic Records series of 45 rpm vinyl.  Sonny Rollins recorded this great set live at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village with half of Ornette Coleman’s band, Don Cherry on cornet and Billy Higgins on drums.  Bob Cranshaw filled out the balance of the quartet on bass.  Rollins had changed his band since recording "The Bridge" and "What’s New".  Gone was the smooth sound of Jim Hall, and in was Rollins’ experiment with free jazz concepts.

Rollins has always been known to excel in live performance, and the Village Gate set amply demonstrates this.  The record includes only three numbers, with ‘Oleo’ clocking in at over 25 minutes.  While Rollins is not usually thought of as being among the cutting edge free jazz players of the 1960s, he demonstrated in this album that he could engage in this music on the highest level.

Much has been written about the remarkable performance in ‘Oleo’.  Some people remember vividly what they were doing for the first space launch, or the announcement of Kennedy’s assassination.  Others remember just as clearly how they felt when first they heard this rendition of Oleo.  Nothing Rollins did before prepared us for just how good he was matched with this group.  Compare Coltrane’s much paler effort with Don Cherry on “The Avant-Garde” (original vinyl issued as Atlantic SD 1451).  The only drawback to this version of the performance is that, since it is a long number, and the record is cut at 45 rpm, the performance is split across two discs.

Like other 45 rpm Classic Records reissues, this one allows you to hear details, especially in bass definition, that you have not heard on other versions.  Also like other Classic Records reissues, it does not fully capture every last ounce of “air” around the instruments as an early first pressing.  First pressings are not ultra-rare like many other classic jazz titles.  This is an RCA release, and RCA was not into small releases.  The $43 cost of this set is comparable to what you could expect to pay for an original.  For my money, however, this is a disc set worth having, in addition to the original.  This is a great classic record.  It will not disappoint in any way.  

For reference, full track listing:

1.      Oleo

2.      Dearly Beloved

3.      Doxy


- DD -


"The Original Ellington Suite"

Chico Hamilton Quintet

Pacific Jazz 7243 5 24567 2 7

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The sleeve on this new CD contains artwork similar to original Pacific Jazz releases of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  The alert among you will recognize, however, that this album was never released.  A few cuts were released on a promo LP and a later compilation LP, and again on the recent Mosaic Chico Hamilton box.  The master tapes disappeared into a black hole long ago, and Michael Cuscuna (of Mosaic Records and Blue Note Records) has been searching for them for decades.  One day in 1995, a lucky record collector stumbled on a test pressing of this recording in a British record shop.  At first, he did not know what he had.  After the Mosaic box was released, however, he realized that he had recordings missing from the “complete” Mosaic box.  This 24-bit CD was pressed from the vinyl test pressing when word reached Cuscuna of the collector’s find.

What makes this CD particularly valuable is that it is the version of the Hamilton quintet that included Eric Dolphy.  The Chico Hamilton Quintet was Dolphy’s first big time gig, and this disc finally fills out the story of that engagement.  The disc is made up entirely of Ellington compositions.  The songs are taken at a somewhat languid pace, but it works here.  Dolphy plays alto saxophone on four songs, flute on three, and clarinet on two.  The performances are highly recommended to lovers of cool or ‘West Coast’ jazz, as well as Dolphy fans.  In fact, I can’t imagine anyone who would not enjoy them.

Given the fact that the master tape was not available, the disc has exceptional sound.  It is not audiophile quality, but it is quite nice for a dub from an LP.  Does it sound as good as the LP?  I guess I will never know unless I get lucky and find another test pressing of the record.  At 40 minutes, 3 seconds, the disc is not overly long by CD standards, but I personally do not think that the value of a record should be measured by its length.  Highly recommended.

For reference, full track listing:

1. In A Mellotone

2. In A Sentimental Mood

3. I’m Just A Lucky So And So

4. Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’

5. Everything But You

6. Day Dream

7. I’m Beginning To See The Light

8. Azure

9. It Don’t Mean A Thing


- DD -


"Third Season"

Hank Mobley

Blue Note 7243 4 97506 2 3

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Hank Mobley leads this 1967 session with Lee Morgan on trumpet, James Spaulding on alto saxophone and flute, Sonny Greenwich on guitar, Cedar Walton on piano, Walter Booker on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.  Although recorded in 1967, the session languished in the vaults until 1980.  This Connoisseur Series release is the first compact disc release of this session.  The original 1980 release liner notes are written by John Litweiler, a former editor of Down Beat and author of several books on Jazz including an Ornette Coleman biography.

Listening to the six songs, it’s hard to understand how this session sat in the tape cans for so many years.  The first four numbers, all in a relatively conservative hard bop vein, are especially engaging.  All six numbers are from the original album, with no “bonus” tracks.

Five of the six numbers are Mobley compositions, the other being by Lee Morgan.  Mobley recorded frequently with Morgan, and their synergy is well demonstrated, especially on the first four numbers.  Sonny Greenwich is a Canadian guitar player usually associated with more avant garde work.  This record does not venture there except for a flirtation in the one Lee Morgan piece "The Steppin’ Stone".  Greenwich takes a few solos, sounding remarkably modern.  Listen especially to his solo on An Apertif, where he has as much in common with Bill Frisell or John Scofield as his contemporaries. After four straight-ahead bop numbers, the album finishes with a bossa nova and soul-gospel infused piece.

The album was first released on LP as Blue Note LT-1081 in 1980.  I do not have a copy of that vinyl issue for comparison.  Blue Note’s pressings of that period were nothing to brag about, so this issue may be the best sounding version of the music.  This disc was mastered with 20-bit Super Bit Mapping and is up to the fairly high level of mastering embodied by the Connoisseur Series.   I find this series preferable to the Blue Note Van Gelder Series, which sounds sucked out in the frequencies so important to good horn sound.  This is an excellent session on all counts, music and sound.

For reference, full track listing:

1.      An Apertif

2.      Don’t Cry, Just Sigh

3.      The Steppin’ Stone

4.      Third Season

5.      Boss Bossa

6. Give me That Feelin’


 - DD -

Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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