Clifford Brown – The Complete Emarcy Master Takes – Verve/ Emarcy/ Hip-O-Select B00121918-02 (4-CD box set) 1954-1956 (mono) – Limited edition of 6000 copies *****:
Clifford Brown & Max Roach
Clifford Brown With Strings
Brown and Roach Incorporated
Study in Brown
Best Coast Jazz
At Basin Street West
plus tracks from posthumous releases
(Clifford Brown, trumpet; Harold Land and Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; Richie Powell, piano; George Morrow, bass; Max Roach, drums – plus guest West Coast artists and string section – Produced by Bob Shad )
One of jazz music’s greatest tragedies was the untimely death of trumpet prodigy Clifford Brown, at the young age of 25 years old. During a period when jazz greats, i.e., Charlie Parker, were passing away from a combination of hard living from heroin and alcohol, Clifford Brown was an anomaly, as he was a clean-living family man, who had the unfortunate luck of dying in a car accident in 1956, in which the wife of his piano player, Richie Powell, was driving from one gig to another in Pennsylvania.
Brownie, as he was affectionately called, had already ranked with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, while just in his early twenties as the greatest trumpeter of his time. His flame was brief but fiery in the short time he toured and recorded. He began playing trumpet at age 15 and by age 18 was playing regularly in the Northeast. He had a year of college, and was out of action in mid-1950 from a car acident, that kept him from playing for a year. After stints with Tadd Dameron and Lionel Hampton, Brown hooked up for some historic recordings on Blue Note with Art Blakey. By mid 1954, his career skyrocketed when he joined drummer, Max Roach for recordings for Emarcy, that make up the master takes for this prized box set.
Brownie’s tone was warm and powerful, and mature well past his young age. Compared to Fats Navarro, another casualty of the time, Brown could hold his own with anyone. He could both burn on jams, and caress ballads as well. He has developed a mystique that carries on to this day, and in the minds of many his brief career has not hampered his position as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time.
Formerly available only on an expensive ten-CD Japanese box set, no longer in print, the issuance of this attractive box set is cause for celebration. Issued in the same format as Verve issued master take sets from Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker – that being in an embossed tin collector’s fold out box – Verve working with Hip-O-Select, has included many other goodies to make this a must purchase. There are 49 tracks on the four CDs, with over four hours of music included. Award winning author, Frances Davis, covers Clifford’s brief but lofty career in a 64-page book. Unfortunately, the gaudy colors used in the book – including silver – make the reading of the book a chore that requires the need for bright light. Also included is a fold-out poster with reproductions of the quintet’s LPs and EP cover art, along with four cool Brownie post cards. All the tracks have been capably remastered, and I found the set’s acoustics to be clean and well mixed, with the Strings album to be on par or greater than the Japanese issue from the 1980s.
Listening to the quintet is also an opportunity to experience the transition on tenor sax from the underrated Harold Land to the then young but soon to be iconic Sonny Rollins. Anchored by Max Roach’s fully in-command drumming, this group could have continued for years to set the pace from the transition from bop to hard bop and beyond. The album with strings set the standard for this jazz genre – along with that of Charlie Parker – that has inspired jazz musicians for years to dream of blending their talents with full string sections. [And unlike with Parker, the strings are in tune!…Ed.] Clifford even had the chance to blend his talents with West Coast-based musicians on Best Coast Jazz.
If you have even the remotest intention of putting together a comprehensive jazz collection of the true jazz masters, the purchase of this classy box set would be a wise choice. At a list price of $69.98 (likely available through online vendors at a decent discount), with the panache of its limited issue, it is suggested that you promptly consider its purchase. Verve/ Hip-O-Select will be issuing Clifford Brown’s sessions with vocalists Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Helen Merrill at a future date in another box set of master takes, hopefully in the same format.
– Jeff Krow