Presenting the Gerry Mulligan Sextet – Mercury/EmArcy/Speakers Corner mono audiophile vinyl ****: [TrackList below]
Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster – Verve V6-8534/Original Recordings Group 12” 45 rpm stereo audiophile vinyl (2 discs) *****: [TrackList below]
Gerry Mulligan, who lived until 1996, was the king of the baritone sax in jazz, known for his uniquely cool and hip sound and arrangements. He was connected with Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton and others. His first album under his own name came out in 1951, and the first of these vinyl albums is a reissue of a 1955 session with his pianoless sextet. Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer are also on the date. The eight tracks are all winners and Speakers Corner remastering has to be better than the original EmArcy release (which somebody online is selling used for $106!) though of course it’s mono, but good mono.
TrackList: Mud Bug, Sweet and Lovely, Apple Core, Nights on the Turntable, Broadway, Everything Happens to Me, The Lady is a Tramp, Bernie’s Tune.
The second album was originally put by Verve in 1959 and is available in a 33⅓ audiophile pressing, but altho expensive (around $60) the 45 rpm reissues are the last word in realism and fidelity. The original notes by Nat Hentoff are reprinted in the double-fold album, which in fact duplicates the original pretty exactly. Except for one thing: somebody listed the second of the two tracks on Side A of the first disc as 14:40 length! Whew! That’s impossible on a 45 rpm 12-inch; the correct timing is 5:37. Side B is only 7 minutes. It’s almost like playing 78s—often only three minutes more on a side than a 12-inch 78. But it’s worth it if you have a decent turntable system.
That 5:37 track, by the way, is Gerry’s own “The Cat Walk,” and it sounds like the early Basie band, with a relaxed, effortless swing. Mulligan did a few “Mulligan Meets…” albums, and this is one of the gems. With Gerry on his baritone and the highly distinctive sound of Ben Webster on tenor sax, the two blow up a storm. They change channels from track to track, but the whole session—being early in the history of the stereo disc—is one of those hole-in-the-middle stereo mixes which makes sure you realize that one of the saxists is on the left channel and the other on the right. (This is one of the few discs where I wish I still had my old Apt-Holman preamp with its difference-information adjustment.) There’s no stretch whatever in the cool Mulligan playing with the traditional old timer Ben Webster. Dave Brubeck once said of Mulligan, “…you feel as if you’re listening to the past, present and future of jazz, all in one tune…” In fact, he was the youngest player in the band for the best hour of jazz television has ever done: The Sound of Jazz of 1957.
Jimmy Rowles was a terrific pianist, and it’s unfortunate that his sound is a bit in the background on the left channel for most of the tracks. But the two saxes are right up front, and often play in an exciting chordal fashion that—with the rest of the rhythm section of Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Mel Lewis on drums—sounds almost like a big band. “Tell Me When” is a lovely somewhat Ellington-sounding Mulligan ballad with a gorgeous solo by Webster. The final side is nearly 11 minutes, and devoted to a wonderfully evocative slow ballad on which the collaboration of the two saxists reaches a pinnacle of perfection. Mulligan and Webster wrote the tune together, and it has a late night feeling to it. The whole session comes across as if the quintet is right there in the listening room with you, and everything is unforced and swinging with the greatest ease. Absolutely no vinyl surface noise.
TrackList: Chelsea Bridge, The Cat Walk, Sunday, Who’s Got Rhythm, Tell Me When, Go Home.
A 10-year anniversary of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society gets a welcome vinyl upgrade.