Red Garland Trio – Swingin’ On The Korner – Elemental Music 5990426 (2CDs), TT: 130:34**** [Distr. by INgrooves/Universal]
(Red Garland – piano; Leroy Vinnegar – bass; Philly Joe Jones – drums)
There is a traditional aphorism which states: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. In some ways that is the conundrum of pianist Red Garland and it goes somewhat like this. If Miles Davis had not picked up Red Garland as the pianist for his first great quintet, what would have been his career? Something to contemplate while listening to this delicious previously un-released session entitled Swingin’ On The Korner from San Francisco’s Keystone Korner recorded December 6-10, 1977.
Whatever lack of acknowledgement Red Garland might have had prior to his time with Miles Davis, he certainly made up for it during and after this period. Garland was a pianist with a swinging bluesy streak, and when coupled with the rich block-chord voicing he utilized, his sound became instantly recognizable and appreciated by jazz audiences. Responding to this acclaim, Garland recorded some nineteen albums for Prestige Records from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. Garland then dropped out of the music scene for a period to return to Dallas to look after his ailing mother. Even after his mother’s death in 1965, Red was only sporadically heard on the international jazz scene, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that he began to play again with any regularity.
Red Garland performed from time to time at Keystone Korner in San Francisco between 1972 and 1980, but this 1977 session is the only one that was extensively recorded. Accompanied by his friend and side-kick from the Miles Davis band, drummer Philly Joe Jones provided empathetic support and energy to the trio. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar spent most of his career in California, and built his reputation in the 1950s and 1960s with his strong walking bass technique, recording with Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, and Stan Getz among others. So with these two cohorts in tow, Garland runs though a set list of standards from the Great American Songbook, plus a couple of jazz classics for good measure.
All are done with style, conviction, and musicality starting with Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale,” where Garland quietly runs through the melody, with a tip of the cap to Beethoven’s Für Elyse before a slashing up-tempo attack on the tune. Red’s arrangement of “Billy Boy” is a doppelgänger for the one he recorded for the Miles Davis album Milestones, with the exception that Vinnegar’s bass solo here is a walking note effort, while on the Davis recording Paul Chambers did an arco solo. The Miles Davis Quintet recorded ‘Round About Midnight from which “Dear Old Stockholm” is taken and on that track Garland had really little to do, except support the front line of Davis and Coltrane, plus a long solo from bassist Chambers. Here Red makes the most of the tune’s structure to offer a solid reading and give drummer Philly Joe Jones plenty of space to execute a well-rounded solo, where he covers his drum kit with ease. The ballad “If I’m Lucky” which Johnny Hartman did with empathy on his album I Just Dropped By To Say Hello, is given a tender reading by Garland where his block chord style is fully effective, and also allows bassist Vinnegar to take a supple solo.
Another cut from the previously mentioned Milestones album is the Thelonious Monk classic “Straight No Chaser” which Red and the band take at full steam, with Jones acting as the musical guide as he works over the drums in full exploratory fashion, as Garland provides lush fills. On the album The Swinging Miss “D”, Dinah Washington did a turn on “Never Let Me Go” which became the go-to version of the song. Garland offers a sympathetic rendition staying close to the melody, yet punctuated with chord breaks that are in keeping with the harmonic leanings of the composition.
Red Garland may not have been an innovator, but he was a swinger with a sense of lyricism and feeling that informed his playing, all of which are evident in this much-welcomed release.
CD1 – Love For Sale; I Wish I Knew; It’s Impossible; Billy Boy; Dear Old Stockholm; If I’m Lucky; Blues In Bebop; On Green Dolphin Street
CD2 – Straight No Chaser; On A Clear Day; The Christmas Song; The Best Things In Life Are Free; Never Let Me Go; Autumn Leaves; Bags’ Groove; It’s All Right With Me/The Theme