Paul Desmond – The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings – Mosaic Records

by | Jul 4, 2020 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Paul Desmond – The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings – Mosaic Records MD7-269 – 7 CD box set – March and October, 1975, Live Recordings at Bourbon Street Jazz Club, Toronto – ****1/2

(Paul Desmond – alto sax; Ed Bickert – electric guitar (except for Disc 6); Don Thompson – bass; Jerry Fuller – drums; Rob McConnell – trombone (Disc 6) )

Paul Desmond was an integral part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet for 17 years (1950-1967). His alto sax helped define the Brubeck sound, and just the fact that he wrote the most well known composition of Brubeck’s career (“Take Five”), would be enough to write his name in jazz history. However, it was his velvety tone and his lyrical improvisation that jazz fans remember most. His sensuous timbre, feather light, but still substantial, can be compared to both Johnny Hodges and Lester Young for its beauty.

This exquisite beauty is presented in superb remastered acoustics on the newly released seven CD box set, titled The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings, from Mosaic Records. Comprised of fifty one tracks, (thirty one previously unreleased!), they took place in Toronto over seven nights in March and October of 1975. Paul’s quartet was made up of ace Canadian jazz musicians. Guitarist, Ed Bickert, who just passed away last year, was a perfect choice for the group as his understated elegance was a perfect fit for Desmond. He was recommended to Paul, by the esteemed Jim Hall, whose recordings on RCA with Desmond are well known. Hall was unable to make these gigs with Paul, and he knew that Bickert was the next best thing. Ed had an amazing gift for harmony, and due to the fact that the quartet would be playing well known standards, he did not need charts onstage, and could freely improvise. Their interplay is flawless, like they had been playing together for years.

The other members of the quartet were Don Thompson on bass, and Jerry Fuller on drums. Thompson is the only member still alive today, and contributes to the liner notes, as well as producing this project. He was involved in recording the music at the club as well. His bass playing throughout the seven nights is steady and rock solid, with numerous solos as evidence. Drummer Jerry Fuller adapted his typically more powerful drumming to fit in with Desmond’s lyrical playing. He was a true professional, putting ego aside. His brush work here is impeccable.

Ed Bickert was unavailable for the October 30-31 gigs, and we have the opportunity to hear for the first time, trombonist, Rob McConnell, sit in for Bickert. It’s a treat to have the chance to experience Desmond with another horn, like he did with Gerry Mulligan, years before. It’s fun to compare Desmond playing “Line for Lyons” with Rob, to the 1957 version with Mulligan on their album, Bluesin Time. McConnell provides counterpoint, and Thompson’s bass gives the tune a steady “heartbeat.”

“Just Squeeze Me” has both Rob and Paul caress the familiar melody, careful not to “squeeze” too hard. On this night’s version of “My Funny Valentine,” Thompson has a memorable bass solo, while Rob provides a gorgeous tender trombone solo. Their version of “Wendy” is perhaps the best of the three renditions presented during these live sessions.

Due to playing familiar standards, Paul “would call out each tune, and the key onstage,” and the quartet could go to town to freely improvise. As Desmond fans know well, Paul was famous for bringing in snippets of other songs to embellish the tunes. He enjoyed doing this to keep himself, and the audience amused and involved. His alto floats and settles like a fine mist on a warm day. It’s both comforting and lyrical, and brings on contentment. He was noted for his erudite wit as well. Here is one example: Desmond described Don Thompson as “he looks a bit like the second coming of Christ, and plays bass as if the family was a bit closer..”

Desmond liked to change the key of classics depending on his mood. “Line for Lyons” was written in G, but on three of the four versions over the seven nights, the group takes it on in B flat. It’s fun to hear “Wave” three times, and the same goes for “Emily,” and “Wendy.” Known as a ladies man, Paul seemed to appreciate playing tunes written for women. Audrey Hepburn was known to love Desmond’s version of the tune (“Audrey”) that Brubeck and Desmond wrote, inspired by her(?)…

“Emily” was written by Johnny Mercer and Johnny Mandel (who we just lost in his mid 90’s, just a few days ago). To hear Desmond emote on this classic song brings chills, comparable to that of hearing Bill Evans on piano doing the same tune.

The acoustics on these tracks is warm and inviting. Mixing and mastering was done by Chad Irschich. The original analog four track tapes were used. The liner notes from Desmond biographer, Doug Ramsey, are both informative and witty, as he shares many anecdotes, and stories about his times spent with Paul Desmond. It’s hard to argue with his opinion that “these Bourbon Street recordings were the highlight of Paul Desmond’s post Brubeck career.”

Twenty one of the fifty one tracks were previously issued on four different issues (LP and CD). Most are unavailable now, or out of print. As mentioned, thirty one of the tracks have never been released before. There will be only 2500 sets sold through Mosaic Records (www.mosaicrecords.com). Fans of Mr. Desmond should jump on this opportunity ASAP. Paul Desmond’s timeless beauty is a needed relief during these troubled times. A most welcome elixir…

Tracklist:
Disc 1:
Too Marvelous for Words
Line for Lyons
Emily
It Could Happen to You
Just Squeeze Me
I Wish I Knew
I Should Care
Audrey

Disc II:
Just Squeeze Me
Meditation
Tangerine
Darn That Dream
Nuages
Like Someone in Love
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

Disc III:
Line for Lyons
Wendy
Too Marvelous for Words
When Sunny Gets Blue
Audrey
Darn That Dream
Take Five

Disc IV:
Tangerine
Wave
It Could Happen to You
Emily
Line for Lyons
When Sunny Gets Blue
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

Disc V:
Just Squeeze Me
All the Things You Are
Autumn Leaves
Wave
I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Nuages
East of the Sun

Disc VI:
Let’s Get Away From It All
Line for Lyons
Just Squeeze Me
My Funny Valentine
Mean to Me
Wendy
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

Disc VII:
Wendy
Wave
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Nancy
Manha De Carnaval
Here’s That Rainy Day
My Funny Valentine
Take Five

—Jeff Krow

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