Picks and Pans Review: Jazz at the Philharmonic
Among the enterprising new reissues of old jazz available are the following LPs, featuring instrumentalists:
For creativity and drive, Charles Mingus had few rivals, as two 1960 sessions remind us. In Mingus, revived on Jazz Man, he whips his 10-piece ensemble through 20 minutes of high-wire solos and presents Stormy Weather as an intimate conversation between his bass, Ted Curson's trumpet and Eric Dolphy's alto sax. The compositions on Limelight's Prebird show why Mingus is Duke Ellington's only peer as a writer, arranger and inspirer of great individual performances. Mingus Fingus No. 2 is typical, launching itself in myriad directions while never losing its compass. Half-Mast Inhibition, conducted here by Gunther Schuller, could be played on a bill with Copland or Gershwin.
Judging by the Gerry Mulligan LP, on Verve, 1960 was a very good year for the baritone saxophonist too. The arrangements by Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer and Al Cohn burst with four-bar exchanges among the soloists. The same immediacy permeates Atlantic's The Lennie Tristano Quartet, a two-disc set recorded at New York's Confucius Restaurant in 1955 and never released. How it could have been allowed to hibernate so long defies explanation. Tristano's post-bebop piano and Lee Konitz's feathery alto spin out melodic lines whose dazzling length is matched only by their odd balance. The surprising power Konitz generates is even more apparent on his 1961 Verve date Motion. It features bassist Sonny Dallas and drummer Elvin Jones, whose dynamism later did so much for John Coltrane's music.
Verve's Philharmonic set constitutes a three-record crash course in the 1940s bebop jam session, with all the attendant peaks and valleys. Despite such luminaries as Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Buddy Rich, Illinois Jacquet and Nat King Cole, the jams often drift into a hammering rhythmic lockstep and speed-demon riffing that can give a listener the screaming meemies. On the other hand, there are Coleman Hawkins' burly narratives on tenor sax, and one glorious Les Paul electric guitar solo on Body and Soul worth the whole price. It's a slithering, quivering thing full of tremolos, abrupt reverses and Django Reinhardt gypsy echoes. A no less original guitarist made a stunning debut in 1954 with The Tal Farlow Album on Verve. A self-taught country boy from Greensboro, N.C., Farlow electrified his own guitar with an old pair of radio earphones and a $20 Sears, Roebuck amplifier. By the time he made this album, he had designed a shorter fingerboard for a softer, warmer sound and not only was playing with an aw-shucks looseness but doing it at fantastic speeds.
After all this exhilaration, a perfect way to unwind is with the 1966 duet album Intermodulation, by pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Jim Hall (another of Polygram's 65 reissues from Verve's catalog). Masters of harmonic color and melodic counterpoint, they entwine so closely that the boundary between the two instruments sometimes all but disappears.
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