Flute-player Red Sullivan has been a helpful resource to me about serious straight-ahead jazz over the years; he has also guest posted on DTM about Gordon Beck.
Red’s in Brazil for good, but his massive record collection is still in his native Ireland. (I guess I should say, what’s left of his massive collection, for some of it was lost in a fire.) When I was in Dublin I dropped by his storage center to pick up a few things to mail him in Rio de Janeiro. Incredibly, Red suggested I grab some things for myself. I told him, “I’ll hold onto these until you want them back.”
I glanced through thousands of albums (or CDs) and selected a few items that were off the beaten track or that I’ve meaning to get to.
Charles Thomas All Star Trio with Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. There’s not too much of Thomas on record. According to one online bio: “Though born in Memphis, legendary jazz pianist Charles Thomas (1935-1999) considered Arkansas home and spent much of his adult life in Little Rock.” I heard this a few years ago and was knocked out, and it’s very nice to get a copy. Anything with Ron and Higgins is worth hearing. Thomas is an authentic player, deep in the shed, with a hint of glamor. The disc warms up a bit as it goes along, it’s a bit of an odd choice to start with obscure Roland Alexander piece, but it must be that Thomas (and his producer James Williams) are making a point of honoring a certain strata of less familiar African-American Jazz.
Michel Petrucciani Michel Plays Petrucciani. I had this in high school and listened to it quite a bit. All star trios: Eddie Gomez and Al Foster is not uncommon but Gary Peacock and Roy Haynes is a rarity. It’s fun. In the end Petrucciani is not for me, there’s something a little glossy and unfocused in his approach, but he’s undoubtedly a hell of a pianist.
The Leaders Trio Heavens Dance Kirk Lightsey, Cecil McBee, Don Moye. This was a pleasant surprise. Offhand I can’t remember Moye on another piano trio record. Bartz’s blues “Uncle Bubba” is a wonderful a blindfold test, a seriously energetic and swinging workout from all three. Well programmed from avant to sensuous, and even has a valid flute overdub from Lightsey. Sleeper disc!
Paul Gonsalves Ellingtonia Moods and Blues. 1960 with really nice band including Johnny Hodges and a rhythm section of Jimmy Jones, Al Hall, and Oliver Jackson. The “Ellington without Ellington” records are their own universe and I’ve never heard a bad one. I am keeping Ellingtonia Moods and Blues out and about in order to remember to keep listening to it. Gonsalves and Hodges know something particularly private and wonderful about playing the saxophone.
Barry Harris Solo. H’mm! This is pretty hard to find a copy of but it’s on the streaming services. 1990: In other words, peak Barry. I don’t think of Mr. Harris as a solo pianist the way I do Hank Jones or Roland Hanna, but it is still wonderful to hear him stretch out in concentrated form. The real bop.
Barry Harris plays Barry Harris. Everything Barry Harris is Barry Harris, I’m not sure if the title is that deep as most of the “originals” here are on a common practice forms. George Duvivier had to follow Bud Powell around on “Glass Enclosure,” now he makes the moving bass line on Barry’s “Backyard” before it resolves into “Embraceable You.” Great playing by all including Leroy Williams. 1978 and this music still sounds like an alternate future of jazz…we seriously owe Don Schlitten a debt for documenting so much prime bop in the 70s.
Walter Davis Jr. Scorpio Rising. Biographical info for Davis is not so easy to come by, so this is valuable for Russ Musto’s liner notes alone. The 1989 trio with Santi Debriano and Ralph Peterson is excellent. If I’m being my most honest, I think the pianist is feeling his years a bit. But aspects of the rhythmic feel, especially the “spikes” when comping, are undeniable.
Walter Davis, Kenny Clarke, Pierre Michelot. Authentic and chaotic, this live set offers a rare and welcome chance to hear Davis as the lead voice circa 1981. The pianist’s pure bop chops are up but grandmaster Klook is a bit loud in the mix and occasionally derails the proceedings. The bass solos are frequent but inessential. Live, it would have been great.
Gary Bartz/Sonny Fortune Alto Memories with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Jack Dejohnette. I think this is the most exposed playing of Buster and Jack together on disc. Very interesting. They are compatible, of course, but it’s pretty wild. Jack is playing out and helps transform a good blowing date into something with seriously exciting moments. I like how this is recorded by Jay Messina, who is better known for rock and pop. It’s a competitive atmosphere. Bartz might be a shade accurate over changes and thus may “win” over Fortune in this instance…Barron’s solo on uptempo “Minority” is memorable.
Gary Bartz Quintet West 42st Street: Live at Birdland 1990 with Claudio Roditi, John Hicks, Ray Drummond and Al Foster. This is a bit dim sounding, I’d like more drums in the mix, especially since it is Al Foster. But no complaints about the incandescent performers in standard rep and the title track by Wilbur Harden. I don’t know Roditi so well but he sounds wonderful here. It’s easy for me to underrate John Hicks, but he’s damn perfect in this hard bop-to-modal quintet situation.
Chris Anderson From the Heart. Chicago: Anderson was one of Herbie Hancock’s most important mentors, and this meditative late solo recital includes liner notes by Wilbur Ware’s widow Gloria. Red says, “There’s no such thing as a life of record collecting without the stories to go along with it.”
Ronnie Mathews at Cafe Des Copains. Mathews baptized Sullivan as “Red” and it stuck. In the liner notes it turns out that Mathews studied with Hall Overton, a choice detail. A nice disc, important for jazz pianophiles, but I’m also under the impression that Mathews never played solo all that much, as he seems to be working too hard to fill in the empty spaces. The best Mathews disc as a leader I know is Roots, Branches and Dances.
Nancy Wilson But Beautiful. A dreamy album of ballads with a small group of aces: Gene Bertoncini, Hank Jones, Ron Carter, Grady Tate.. Wilson sounds just wonderful here. Perhaps this is a perfect disc?
Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini. 1964. Sadly, not exactly an outstanding find, Q is trying to hard to find “weird” textures. I associate Q with thinning things out to make them groovy, not adding gimmick after gimmick. “Pink Panther” is almost unlistenable in this absurdly tricked-out arrangement (Major Holley hums along with bowed bass). Still, an interesting document of the bachelor pad age. Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson in the rhythm section: that’s cool!
Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with Junior Mance & Les Spann Complete Studio Recordings. Of all the jazz greats, I have the biggest deficit towards Dizzy GIllespie. There’s was a big box of Birks in Red’s storage center. Really I should have taken that and nothing else, but instead I grabbed what I knew was classic moment that I had never heard, a compilation of The Ebullient Mr. Gillespie and Have Trumpet, Will Excite. It’s a revelation. A brilliant small group with Sam Jones and Lex Humphries plays careful low-key arrangements that set off the trumpet playing like a jewel. In a way it feels more like a vocal album than a trumpet album, and this approach is perfect for Dizzy, who stays in his cup mute most of the time. Spann’s flute solos are lovely and this might be the best Junior Mance I’ve ever heard. Five stars.
James Moody/Thad Jones The Legendary 1963-64 Sessions. A compilation of the LPs Great Day and Running the Gamut. I’ve never heard this music before and am frankly bowled over by the creativity and sensibility. We might associate 1964 with more avant grade movements let by titans like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, etc., but these musicians were also dealing on the highest level. Running the Gamut with Reggie Workman and Tootie Heath is greasy as hell. Patti Bown is a new name to me but she sounds great here. A couple of pieces are by Coltrane’s teacher Dennis Sandole. Great Day features Mel Lewis and Richard Davis backing all stars in a program of sophisticated hard bop composed and arranged by Tom McIntosh. It’s a bit “proto Thad and Mel” especially with Richard Davis in the mix.
James Moody Feelin’ It Together. Jesus H. Christ the opening “Anthropology” is in E-flat. Both Moody (on alto) and Kenny Barron play a surprising amount of modal language on this rhythm changes. Sometimes uptempo playing is described as “unruffled” but this is definitely “ruffled.” Really pretty great, sounds like a furious live set and not a studio track. The Muse catalog was cheaply produced and it shows, but there are undoubtedly gems, including this one. Many kudos to Freddie Waits as well. Not sure if Larry Ridley should have bowed so much on some of the other selections.
Drummond/Jones/Higgins The Essence. Unsurprisingly, this is really great. I have no idea why I haven’t heard it before. 1991: Hank is still in peak form and Bulldog gets right between the older masters. According the liners, they played a week at Bradley’s before recording, and it shows. Keith Jarrett recorded Golson’s “Whisper Not’ a few years after this. Keith should have checked out Hank here…
Tommy Flanagan Let’s Play the Music of Thad Jones. 1993 with Jesper Lundgaard and Lewis Nash; valuable but a shade uncharismatic. The working trio had Peter Washington, that would have made difference. The disc Hank Jones made with Mraz and Elvin of Thad Jones from a year later (Upon Reflection) is more fun.
Wynton Kelly Trio Live at the Left Bank Jazz Society Baltimore 1967. Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and various bassists (here it is Cecil McBee) took turns accompanying star tenors at the Left Bank. A night with Joe Henderson is famous (and utterly essential) but there’s an inspired session with George Coleman and in this instance a good go with the great Hank Mobley. An uptempo modal “Milestones” is kind of a surprise. Perhaps Mobley is past his prime but he’s still Hank Mobley. The black audience shouts hosannas in the pauses between the authentic phrases.
George Coleman Playing Changes/Blues Inside Out. Two different sessions live at Ronnie Scotts. The quartet with Hilton Ruiz, Ray Drummond, Billy Higgins is predictably excellent, but in a way it even more interesting to hear George get competitive with a crack team of Londoners including Peter King, Julian Joseph, Dave Green, and Mark Taylor.
Finally, three “repertory” discs:
The Music of Jimmie Lunceford. John Lewis in charge of the American Jazz Orchestra in 1991. Extensive helpful notes by Gary Giddins.
Dameronia Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt/Paris. Don Sickler in charge of all stars in 1989 and Kenny Washington replacing the late Philly Joe Jones. Extensive helpful notes by Dan Morgenstern.
Bill Cunliffe Bill Plays Bud. Mostly trio with Dave Carpenter and underrated Joe La Barbera with Ralph Moore and Papa Rodriguez added on some selections. Cunliffe makes a point of programming several of Powell’s most obscure tunes.
None of these last three are perfect albums but performing and reinventing repertoire is a fascinating topic. Excellent references for the jazz library…