Picks and Pans Review: Mosaic's Third Release
Producer Michael Cuscuna of tiny Mosaic Records is the Mel Fisher of the jazz world, diving into record company vaults to haul up sunken treasures of classic performances, alternate takes and unissued masters. After restoring the auditory luster of these recordings, Cuscuna and his co-director, Charlie Lourie, offer them by mail in limited-edition boxed sets replete with scholarly essays illustrated with photographs. With its third round of releases the 3-year-old company maintains its high standards. The only thing that drags in The Complete Edmond Hall/ James P. Johnson/Sidney De Paris/ Vic Dickenson Blue Note Sessions is the title. Most of the 66 selections on these six discs were recorded between 1941 and 1944. Bebop was then the war cry of the young, while New Orleans music was the rediscovered rage of "trads." Mature if hardly wizened, Hall (clarinet), Johnson (piano), De Paris (trumpet) and Dickenson (trombone) were closer to New Orleans in spirit, but they didn't fit in either camp. At Blue Note Records they constituted a sort of repertory company and took turns leading it. Their drummer was usually the whompingly good Big Sid Catlett. Their music was refreshing and companionable, as if they were beyond having anything to prove. After You've Gone is a peak example of their art. Just when you're thinking how nice De Paris' and Johnson's solos were, tenor saxophonist Ben Webster leaps in, wriggling like a shiny serpent. Webster hands off to Dickenson over an authoritative Catlett crack and roll. Dickenson burbles merrily, then brakes at the next Catlett pistol shot and swoons comically before leaping onwards. He yields to De Paris, who spits out a crackling, ecstatic paraphrase of the melody with everybody converging for a stirring dive across the finish line. The box includes, among several other groupings, a marvelous 1952 Dickenson session with Bill Doggett on organ, John Collins on guitar and Papa Jo Jones on drums. Dickenson strolls through Tenderly and I'm Getting Sentimental Over You with leisurely, sly humor.
Another six-album leviathan, The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Sidney Bechet, comprises 74 cuts set down from 1939 to 1953. Bechet was born in New Orleans in 1897 and for all his travels never totally left the fold. He transcended it, emerging as one of the first commanding soloists in jazz. He legitimized the soprano sax; his fervency and penetrating vibrato were so distinctive no one has seriously tried, or dared, to imitate him. The Mosaic box is a monument, demonstrating Bechet's consistency and drive in any setting (his slow blues, especially Blue Horizon, will have you in sackcloth and ashes). Drumming throughout is pedestrian, but the horns (Wild Bill Davison, Bunk Johnson, Max Kaminsky, De Paris) and piano (Art Hodes) sparkle. The final 1953 session with Jonah Jones on trumpet and Buddy Weed on piano will delicately tear your head off.
So too will The Complete Candid Recordings of Charles Mingus, only less delicately. For the first 10 months of 1960 Mingus whipped his quartet into shape on the stage of the Showplace in Greenwich Village. "We played from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.," trumpeter Ted Curson recalled. "Then he'd hold a rehearsal." The music was wound to the point of explosion by Mingus' insistence on strict boundaries of harmony and form. The band did explode in a way. By the time the Oct. 20 recording date for this Candid session came along, Curson and multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy had announced their resignations. But they agreed to show up for one last magnificent hurrah. Vividly rerecorded, the four-record Mosaic set includes five previously unissued numbers, e.g. a lively, tingling Body and Soul with Roy Eldridge on trumpet and Tommy Flanagan on piano. A nice balm.
With mountains of Monk on the market, who needs The Complete Black Lion and Vogue Recordings of Thelonious Monk Only those interested in the mercurial genius at his best. The Black Lion session of Nov. 15, 1971 was Monk's last as a leader. There is no hint of the despondency that was to engulf him in his final years (he died in 1982). All four discs are fecund and bracing, but the treat of treats is a nine-and-a-half-minute, previously unissued improvisation-from-scratch, Chordially. It was nothing more than Monk sitting down to the studio piano (an excellent grand) for the first time and exploring the instrument. His improvisation was careful and systematic, but surprisingly felt and affecting. Beethoven used to improvise at the piano when the spirit moved him. One of these improvisations, the Fantasia in G Minor, Op. 77, was transcribed and has been recorded (for instance, by Artur Schnabel). Listening to it is like standing over Beethoven's shoulder. Monk's Chordially offers a similar sensation. But instead of a conscious bravura turn, the sense is of something tender and private. (Mosaic, 197 Strawberry Hill Avenue, Stamford, Conn. 06902)
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