Jazz Icons, Series 5 – Six-DVD Box Set (2011) [Individual titles below]

by | Dec 26, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Jazz Icons, Series 5 – Six-DVD Box Set (2011) [Individual titles below]
Studio:  INA French TV 1959-1973/ Reelin’ in the Years Productions/ Mosaic Records DVDBX 6001 [10/26/11]
Video: 4:3 Color & B&W
Audio: English Dolby Digital mono
All regions
Extras: On some of the DVDs
Rating: ****½
After the 4th Series of Jazz Icons DVDs came out in 2009, any future editions were in doubt due to the fact that the fourth series did not sell well, and the collaborator on the previous series, Naxos, did not have the funding to continue with any future issues. In April 2011, David Peck and Tom Gulotta of Reelin’ in the Years approached Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records, to see if Mosaic would be interested in assisting with funding for a 5th Series. The enticement of having two rare French television videos: John Coltrane’s 1965 quartet doing the only public recording of “A Love Supreme” and “Ascension”; as well as a Thelonious Monk 1969 solo studio recital (in color, along with the Roland Kirk!) were enough to get Mosaic aboard. Cuscuna assisted in helping track down four other first rate French television recordings of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This collaboration between two companies that specialize in well-researched rare recordings is a match made in jazz heaven, and it is hoped that more Jazz Icons Series will arrive in the future if this 5th Series sells well.
John Coltrane – Live in France 1965 – MDVD 2001 – B&W – Mono – 52 minutes – Audio **** / Video ***½:
(John Coltrane, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums)
Recorded on July 26 and 27, 1965, at the Antibes Jazz Festival, this French television recording is a valuable document as it features the aforementioned only live public performance of “A Love Supreme” and “Ascension.” The former is a truncated 12 ½ minute version. It is a real treat to hear and view Coltrane play his masterpiece. In addition to “Ascension,” we hear “Naima,” and “Impressions.” Coltrane was 38 when this recording was made and passed away just two years later. There is a sense of urgency in his playing and the intensity is easily felt. The video montage of Coltrane playing over and behind his band mates is well done by the French camera crew. The audio is fine, but the video can be a bit cloudy, and there are some focus issues. Nevertheless, this is an historic archival video and begins the 5th Series with a bang. A 16-page booklet is provided with liner notes by saxophonist, David Liebman, and an essay by Coltrane historian, Ashley Kahn.
Thelonious Monk – Live in France 1969 – MVD 2002 – Color – Mono – 65 minutes – Audio **** / Video ****½:
The Monk 1969 French TV solo recording is a revelation. Recorded in color in a Paris television studio, we find Monk alone with just two cameras and a Steinway grand piano. Monk seems oblivious to his surroundings, wrapped up in his own world, showing little emotion, deeply concentrating on his playing. The video of his fingers either caressing or attacking the Steinway’s keyboard is priceless. He leans forward playing stride, and blues with dissonant chords using phrases that would not work with another pianist, but with Monk, they make sense and have an innate coherence.
Made up of nine originals plus “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “Don’t Blame Me,” the highlights for me were renditions of “Monk’s Moods,” “Round Midnight,” and “Ugly Beauty,” where we find Monk lost in reverie.
The clear color video brings this DVD alive as it goes from being an archival recording to a present time recital in your living room. The tension and release that Monk provides is palpable and deeply moving. You will also get a kick out of the bonus interview with Monk, in which he clearly shows his boredom and indifference with the French interviewer, who seems clearly lost and confused in Monk’s presence. [Who is trying too hard to make for palatable TV material—Monk at one point shows his frustration, saying his whole visit was “ossified;” the interviewer then says “Now you don’t want to say that.” He also seems fascinated that Monk used the French word “Crepuscule” in his composition “Crepuscule with Nellie”…Ed.]
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – Live in France 1959 – MDVD 2003 – B&W – Mono – 83 minutes – Audio ***½ / Video ****:
(Art Blakey, drums;  Walter Davis, Jr., piano; Lee Morgan, trumpet; Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Jymie Merritt, bass)
Recorded live in Paris on Nov. 15, 1959, this was one of the first performances from newest Messengers, Wayne Shorter and Walter Davis, Jr. Shorter and Lee Morgan were young lions then, but clearly comfortable tackling Blakey’s charts with ease. Each have several solos throughout this video and Morgan’s command of the mid-register of the trumpet is evident, while Shorter is already a mature tenor saxist, blowing numerous passionate choruses on his solos.
The French audience is appreciative and goes wild for Duke Pearson’s “No Problem,” which was written for the popular French film Les Liason Dangereuses. [On the credits of which Monk got no credit…Ed.]
“Bouncin with Bud,” written by Bud Powell, is given respectful treatment by Walter Davis, Jr., who was a Powell acolyte. Two classic Benny Golson compositions, “Along Came Betty,” and “Blues March,” are highlights, and both remained in the Blakey songbook throughout the 30+ year life of various Messenger aggregations.
The video is sharp with clear contrast, and black and white tones. The mono audio is passable for a live recording of the time period.
Johnny Griffin – Live in France 1971 – MDVD 2004 – B&W – Stereo/Mono – 77 minutes – Audio **** / Video ****:
(Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Vince Benedetti, or Rene Utreger, piano; Alby Cullaz, bass; Art Taylor, drums. Special guest, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, on “Night in Tunisia” and “Hot House”)
Johnny Griffin’s contribution to Series 5 includes two performances. On Aug. 29, 1971, his quartet played at the Jazz Festival de Chateauvallon, and had Dizzy Gillespie as a special guest. Two months prior, they recorded in studio with French pianist Rene Urtreger.
Griffin, affectionally nicknamed Little Giant, had lived in France from 1963 to 1973. He played with both French musicians and visiting American jazz royalty. He returned later in life to France, and passed away there in 2008.
Johnny was known for his lightning-fast playing on the tenor and could rip off choruses with blistering speed. Yet he had a mastery on the ballad as well, demonstrated here with “When We Were Young” and “Soft and Furry,” a melody duet with his tenor and the arco bass of Alby Cullaz. We get treated to two versions of “Blues for Harvey,” one live and one in the studio; both feature a fiery Johnny.
Other highlights on these 1971 performances include some great trading of measures with Art Taylor, who was a perfect drummer for Griffin. Dizzy provides a welcome addition on the requisite “Night in Tunisia,” and also on Charlie Parker’s “Hot House.”
Freddie Hubbard – Live in France 1973 – MDVD 2005 – B&W – Stereo – 50 minutes – Audio **** / Video ****:
(Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Junior Cook, tenor sax and flute; George Cables, electric piano; Kent Brinkley, bass; Michael Carvin, drums)
For fans of Freddie Hubbard’s CTI period of hot jazz fusion with rock rhythms, the 1973 French TV recording will be to your liking. We have only three extended tracks; title tracks of CTI issues, Straight Life and First Light, as well as “Intrepid Fox,” from the Red Clay album. Freddie was 35 years old at the time of this recording and he is red hot, clearly in his prime. His brashness is evident and he had few peers for sheer power at that time. He snaps off notes with relish and his flutter trills are without parallel.
Junior Cook matches Freddie for power and intensity and clearly shows he was more than just an excellent hard bop sax tenor player (as he showed with his tenure with Blue Mitchell, for whom he is more well known.) Cook, when given time to solo, is a super foil for Hubbard and he handles the electric fusion charts with ease. George Cables on electric piano, is the consummate professional, playing both funky and percussive.
Audio presentation exceeds the video as the up-close shots are fine with the more distant filming a bit out of focus at times. For fans of 1970s period Freddie Hubbard, you will be quite pleased with this 1973 French TV material.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Live in France 1972 – MDVD 2006 – Mono – Color – 73 minutes – Audio **** / Video ***½:
(Rahsaan Roland Kirk, tenor sax; manzello, stritch, clarinet, flutes, castanets, vocals; Ron Burton, piano; Henry Pearson, bass; Joe Texidor, percussion; Richie Goldberg, drums)
Although I especially loved the Monk and Coltrane DVDs, my clear favorite of the entire six DVD set is the Rahsaan Roland Kirk 1972 concert. Playing with his group of this time period, the Vibration Society, this footage was recorded at the Grand Palais in Paris on March 8, 1972.
Kirk was a master of circular breathing, which he referred to as “spherical breathing.” It enabled him to play several reed instruments at the same time. In addition to the tenor, Roland mastered the manzello, a customized soprano sax, as well as the stritch, an elongated straight alto sax, that sometimes utilized a French horn bell.
Rahsaan was noted for passionate, intense performances and this concert in front of a small appreciative audience is no exception. Playing a mixture of standards and his own compositions, Kirk can be both tender and bluesy at one moment, and then honking and wailing with abandon on the next chorus.
His renditions of “Blue Train” and “Lester Leaps In” are mostly straight ahead (at least for Rahsaan), while “Satin Doll” and “For Bechet And Ellington and Bigard and Carney and Rabbit” are soulful and honor their tribute artists. Kirk even delves into Motown with Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” His bandmates are clearly inspired by their leader to improvise as Richie Goldberg blows air into his tom-toms with surgical tubing on “Lester Leaps In” to alter their sound, and percussionist Texidor adds much to the musical stew Kirk presents. Ron Burton, on piano, has several opportunities to shine, and he is clearly in synch with Kirk.
On “Satin Doll” the manzello and tenor seem to compete with each other as Kirk sets separate moods for each of them. On Roland’s classic “Volunteer Slavery” he pours out his soul, playing all three reeds simultaneously. It is hard not to be moved by the genius of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It’s not just a gimmick.
The color tones and hues are sometimes over-saturated, but the mono audio is effective in communicating Kirk’s passion. There is not a lot of available Roland Kirk video available. The inclusion of this DVD in the latest Jazz Icons box set is icing on the cake.
This may be the best Jazz Icons set yet. Long live the relationship between Reelin’ in the Years Productions and Mosaic Records. A match made in jazz video heaven…
—Jeff Krow

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