Gerry Mulligan – Little Big Horn (1981) – GRP/Lancia Media Factory LMF7001 180gm audiophile vinyl *****:
(Band included Dave Grusin – keyboards; Richard Tee – piano [tr. 5 only]; Michael Brecker – tenor sax; Jay Leonhart – elec. bass; Lou Marini, alto sax)
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say? (1959) – Columbia/Sony Music/ Original Record Group ORG 111 180gm audiophile vinyl 45 rpm double-disc set *****:
(Gerry Mulligan – baritone sax; Art Farmer – trumpet; Bill Crow – bass; Dave Bailey – drums)
Mulligan, who died in 1996, is mostly known as probably the best baritone saxist in jazz history, but he was also a top arranger who worked with Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton and others. His piano-less quartet of the 50s was the epitome of West Coast cool jazz, but he also was a fine pianist and played other reeds too. (As a youngster, Mulligan had gotten into jazz via his mother hiring a black nanny who had a player piano at her house with rolls by Fats Waller and others.)
The first tracks on either side of the Lancia vinyl reissue incorporate a nonette with two trumpets and Mulligan’s warm but cool baritone in the forefront. The other two tracks on each side are quartets, except for one expanding to a quintet. All the tunes are Mulligan originals and feature his expressive and individual approach to arranging. On the final track of the album, “I Never Was a Young Man,” he even does the vocal. All the musicians Mulligan assembled for this date were first rate, and the variety of ensemble makes for a fresh sort of sound on each track. Restored from the original GRP master tapes, Gerry’s baritone is front and center but blends well with the rest of the group.
The much earlier Mulligan session benefits from an even more enhanced sonic due to its 45 rpm remastering, but at a considerable higher cost and more effort playing the short sides. Also, this is from the second year of stereodiscs, and jazz recording was plagued by exaggerated separate of the instruments on the left and right channels on many releases. Mulligan is solidly in the left-channel speaker and Art Farmer’s trumpet solidly in the right channel. (I was wishing I had the separation adjustment on my former Apt-Holman preamp for that.)
This time only three of the eight tunes are by Mulligan. The opening title tune is a Harburg-Duke classic, and track 2 is “Just in Time” from the wonderful Comden-Green-Styne musical Bells Are Ringing, which starred Judy Holliday—with whom Mulligan had a relationship until her early death. (They must have made quite a pair…Ed.] Mulligan’s bassist Bill Crow contributed the swinging “News from Blueport,” and “My Funny Valentine” gets a lovely and lyrical ballad treatment from Mulligan. Art Farmer’s original, just plain “Blueport” is the lengthy first track on the fourth side of the album—opening with a hard-hitting trumpet statement, with Mulligan’s own “Utter Chorus” closing things out in a bouncy fashion.
The album notes are reprinted in readable fashion, and they are by Mulligan himself. He talks about how much fun the session was, not intellectualizing about the music but just playing it. Many of the tracks have some amazing interplay between Mulligan on the left and Farmer on the right. If you didn’t already appreciate what a fantastic trumpet player he was, this album will thoroughly convince you. There are occasional “liquidy” sounds to Mulligan’s baritone playing; I don’t believe I have noticed those in other recordings. (At least the 45 rpm format clarifies them more; don’t get me wrong, it’s not to the disgusting level.) The reissue was mastered by Bernie Grundman, who has his signature proudly etched unto each of the four sides. If you have a high quality high-end turntable system and are a cool jazz fan, you will have to have this album in spite of its high cost. (Don’t forget to change the speed, or you will have some mighty lugubrious baritone sax…)
TrackList – Little Big Horn:
S.1 – Little Big Horn, Under a Star, Sun on Stairs
S.2 – Another Kind of Sunday, Bright Angel Falls, I Never was a Young Man
TrackList – What Is There to Say?:
S.1 – What Is There to Say?, Just in Time
S.2 – New from Blueport, Festive Minor
S.3 – As Catch Can, My Funny Valentine
S.4 – Blueport, Utter Chaos
Chico Hamilton and Little Feat join forces on this impressive 2023 Record Store Day Black Friday release.