Anyone who truly loves jazz has thoroughly researched the catalogues of their faves. They’re intimately aware of the big labels – Blue Note, Prestige, OJC, Riverside, Muse, etc. But every once in a while, some classic sessions succeed in slipping under the radar. Along with many other jazz fanatics, I have such a list. Although the artists on these dates are far from unknown, the quality of the performances have never received their just due.
Before identifying the releases, another quality of jazz fanatics should be addressed : The “hunt” is always as much of an adventure as listening to the actual disc. Just knowing that it’s hard to find is half of the challenge/reward. The exhilaration one feels from locating a recording that one knows scarce is satisfying beyond words. (Many know precisely the feeling I can’t adequately describe). If you’ve ever seen a savvy customer almost shriek in a record store, you recognize the feeling. “Hey man, you found it!”
So below are the discs I’m talking about, plus some supplemental choices:
1. ” Art Pepper Today ” – OJCCD-474-2 (1991). This one finds the alto sax legend accompanied by perhaps his most supportive band ever. Stanley Cowell on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The date includes “Miss Who?/Mambo Koyame/Lover, Come Back To Me/These Foolish Things/Chris’s Blues/These Foolish Things (alternate take).” Now all of these numbers are solid stuff and superbly played. But there is one song which lifts the effort to the “so rarified” stratosphere of jazzdom. The quartet’s treatment of the ballad “Patricia” is positively staggering! The tune itself is awesomely beautiful, but to use the age-old “definitive version” is this case would be criminal. The majesty of this performance is beyond words – it’s too good to even attempt to describe when limited by a mere dictionary. It opens with AP laying out the indescribably lovely melody, followed by a miraculous solo by Mr. McBee, followed by a gorgeous solo by Mr. Cowell, followed by Mr. Pepper bringing it home. Roy Haynes plays perfectly in support. One of the most (almost religious) aspects of the number is that each solo retains the heart of the melody. This is not an occasion where each soloist strays off the tune – they’re all “on it” throughout. This might very well be one of the “top 5” group performances ever laid down on tape. Yet, many will think of dozens of Pepper dates before this one.
2. ” Starburst ” Reuben Brown Trio with Richie Cole – Genes CD 5001 (1995). Although ostensibly led by pianist Brown, this was altoist Richie Cole’s second date. Some might disagree, but I think Mr. Cole greatly benefits from the absence of long-term cohort Eddie Jefferson on vocals. I mean, Cole can seriously burn on alto, and I’m relieved that he can strut his stuff sans Jefferson (who seemingly destroyed half his releases). I don’t mean to alienate Jefferson fans, but Richie deserves some space! On this release, he’s magnificent. Other critics always say he shows a sense of humor – I say he just shows a rather singular interpretation. His working of “Confirmation,” “Starburst” and “One Less Bell To Answer” are be-bop defined. But the truly unexpected gifts are his nutty realizations of “Tokyo Rose Sings The Blues” and “Lucy And Desi”. A serious jazz artist would have to be crazed to play this stuff. The reason the disc is so good is that Richie Cole is very far from crazy. This program actually steered me towards jazz due to the sheer embulance in the playing. Just a great time and swings like mad!
3. Dexter Gordon ” Bouncin’ With Dex ” – Steeplechase SCCD 31060 (1975). I won’t even attempt to argue against most of Dexter Gordon’s output being best represented by his Blue Note period. However, when he moved to Copenhagen in the 1960s, the man still did his thing. Much of this work was reflected by a series of ok recorded Montmarte live performances. But somewhat obscured were some monster studio sessions recorded by Nils Winther of Steeplechase. One of the best was this one. Besides having such a so cool title, it featured Tete Montoliu on piano, Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Dudes, that’s it – there’s no better band to be found over there. The masterful Higgins is an upgrade from the usual Alex Riel-type and the other two are similarly masterful. The program of ” Billie’s Bounce/Easy Living/Benji’s Bounce/ Catalonian Nights/Four/Easy Living (take one)” is a thorough joy with Dexter really digging in. The sonics are nicely fleshed out as well. Really under-rated Dexterism – as is “The Apartment” from similar times, but with a different band (Kenny Drew-piano/NHOP-bass/Albert “Tootie” Heath-drums). “The Apartment” was recorded by Steeplechase a year earlier, but also captures Mr. Gordon at his best. Again, hard to find, but well worth seeking out.
4. Chico Freeman ” Spirit Sensitive” – India Navigation IN 1045 (1979). This magnificent disc is from Chico Freeman’s heyday in the late 70s, early 80s. It’s not that he never reached that level again, it’s just that he released a torrent of incredible material in such a short period of time that it is almost unfair to expect him to match it. I mean, “Beyond The Rain”,”Kings Of Mali”, “The Outside Within”, “Destiny’s Dance”, “Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit”. That’s five star discs one-right-after-the-other! In the midst of this in 1979 was Mr. Freeman’s treatment of ballad standards. For someone who was so often all over the horn, this showed his overall mastery of the jazz idiom. A monsterously total classic with Mr. Freeman joined by pianist John Hicks, bassist Cecil McBee and either Billy Hart or Don Moye on drums. The awesome program includes ” Autumn In New York/ Peace/A Child Is Born/Lonnie’s Lament/You Don’t Have To Say You’re Sorry/ Wise One/It Never Entered My Mind/ Close To You Alone/Carnival/Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” A couple of new tunes are added to the CD issue. In one word : “Wow!”.
– Birney K. Brown