Sixty years later, a dream front line still dazzles…
Gerry Mulligan – The Emarcy Sextet Recordings – Mosaic Records MRLP 3008 – 5 vinyl mono box set – 1955-1956 ****1/2:
(Gerry Mulligan – baritone saxophone, piano; Bob Brookmeyer – valve trombone, piano; Zoot Sims – tenor saxophone; Jon Eardley or Don Ferrara – trumpet; Peck Morrison or Bill Crow – acoustic bass; Dave Bailey – drums)
As a fan of classic mainstream jazz, there are times that I wish I was born ten or fifteen years earlier so that I could have attended jazz night clubs to have heard my heroes when they were either in their prime or just beginning to achieve fame. In the right city (especially New York), this could have been a weekday occurrence. This thought comes to mind when reading the informative liner notes in the Mosaic booklet of the just issued five LP box set documenting the 1955-1956 Gerry Mulligan sextet. The notes mentioned that the Mulligan group received high praise from jazz critics, yet the public at that time didn’t flock to record stores to buy the Emarcy label albums. How could this be besides the fact that there was an embarrassment of riches for the jazz audience to choose from in the golden jazz decade of 1955-1965.
What other reason to explain why a dream front line of Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Zoot Sims, Jon Eardley (followed by Don Ferrara in Sept 1956) would be met with lukewarm response? The five albums the sextet issued in a one-year period produced some of the most gratifying “cool” sounding swing music of its era. Backed by bassists Peck Morrison or Bill Crow, and drummer Dave Bailey, the sextet was provided with creative arrangements from Gerry heavy with counterpoint and seamless ensemble blends.
The ease of “communication” between the saxophones and the valve trombone of Brookmeyer mated with the trumpet of either Jon Eardley or Don Ferrra make the jazz standards and Mulligan penned compositions settle in like a fine wine. There are several versions of standards like “Broadway,” “Everything Happens to Me,” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” Attentive listeners will appreciate the changes in tempo as well as the solo orders.
What is a constant is the buoyancy and distinct sense of relaxed swing. Mulligan was a master of the cooler-sounding upper register of the baritone sax, and his blend with the somewhat similar tone of the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer is a match made in heaven, especially when tenor saxist, Zoot Sims is present to contribute his deep groove. I can’t think of a more potent front line section to present what some jazz fans would experience as West Coast-sounding jazz, even though it was coming out of New York City. (Mulligan had just come out of living in LA and recording for Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz Records with Chet Baker so it seemed like a natural progression).
Highlights of these five album are many, as could be expected by such an elite line-up. On the first album, Zoot sets the mood on “Sweet and Lovely” as each soloist makes a statement with others responding in counterpoint. The unison ensemble sections float.
Gerry’s solo on the ballad “Everything Happens to Me” is sumptuous as his elegance on the baritone throughout these albums is ever present. “ The Lady is a Tramp” has several versions that share a soft bop read. “Elevation” has a jam session feel. It’s a blues in which the soloists dart in and out, while bassist Peck Morrison provides a rock solid beat.
Fans of early Mulligan or any of the other now-famous frontline horn men are in for a real treat in exploring this music, which except for Japanese label issues has never been released on CD. The tape transfers on audiophile 180 gm vinyl by Kevin Reeves are remarkably warm for the time period in which they were recorded.
Only 3500 of these box sets will be issued by Mosaic Records. Don’t delay as this box set is something special. You can order through Mosaic at www.mosaicrecords.com
Record One – Presenting The Gerry Mulligan Sextet =
Side A: Mud Bug, Sweet and Lovely, Apple Core, Nights at the Turntable
Side B: Broadway, Everything Happens to Me, The Lady is a Tramp, Bernie’s Tune
Record Two – Mainstream of Jazz =
Side A: Elevation, Mainstream, Ain’t It the Truth
Side B: Igloo, Blue at the Roots (Root Blues), Lollypop
Record Three – A Profile of Gerry Mulligan =
Side A: Makin’ Whoopee, Demanton, Ellington: (Moon Mist, In a Sentimental Mood)
Side B: Westwood Walk, La Plus Que Lente, Blues
Record Four – The Gerry Mulligan Sextet: Mainstream of Jazz Vol. 2 =
Side A: Blues (first version),The Lady is a Tramp, Demanton
Side B: Broadway, Sweet and Lovely, Bernie’s Tune, Blues (alt take)
Record Five – The Gerry Mulligan Sextet: Mainstream of Jazz Vol. 3 =
Side A: Broadway, Demanton (alt take), Everything Happens to Me (alt. take)
Side B: Everything Happens to Me (alt. take 2), The Lady is a Tramp, Westwood Walk; La Plus Que Lente