The Complete Bee Hive Sessions – Mosaic Records (16 LPs reissued as 12-CD set)

The Complete Bee Hive Sessions – Mosaic Records MD12-261 – 16 LP albums reissued as a 12 CD box set (1977-1984) *****:

(Sessions led by: Nick Brignola – baritone sax, alto sax; Sal Nistico – tenor sax; Curtis Fuller – trombone; Dizzy Reece – trumpet; Clifford Jordan – tenor sax; Johnny Hartman – vocals; Sal Salvador – guitar; Ronnie Matthews – piano; Roland Hanna – piano; Dick Katz – piano; Junior Mance – piano; Arnett Cobb – tenor sax)

The late 1970s leading into the ‘80s were particularly “lean years” for mainstream jazz artists. The influence of rock music peaked public interest toward electronic jazz which found its influence in jazz rock “fusion”, the avantgarde movement, or jazz funk utilizing analog synthesizers. Many musicians who had come up during the golden age of jazz in the 1950s and ‘60s and cut their teeth on bop and hard bop found recording and session work opportunities (outside of New York City) to be limited.

Filling the void left by the major jazz labels’ move towards recording primarily electric jazz were independent recording labels run by knowledgeable jazz fanatics who on a much smaller scale would try to replicate the success found by A&M Records with their subsidiary Horizon Records (1974-1978).  Mainstream jazz fans luckily found their “jazz angels” in Jim and Susan Neumann from the greater Chicago area who began Bee Hive Jazz Records in late 1977, and for a remarkable seven-year run recorded 16 albums. Jim had the means to record first call jazz musicians who were making their living almost strictly from Chicago and New York jazz club dates, and shared his love for the bop/hard bop jazz idiom. On Bee Hive, they were free from restrictions and could record the music they loved backed by their contemporaries, many whom were noted jazz recording artists. By providing free rein to the session leader, the Neumanns were able to get dream session small group pairings. In strictly acoustic settings baritone sax player, Nick Brignola, could interact with Pepper Adams, or Ronnie Cuber and Cecil Payne. Sitting in the drum chair were legends Roy Haynes or Jimmy Cobb.

Sal Nistico would record as a leader backed by Brignola, and return a month later to back Curtis Fuller on Fuller’s date. By recording primarily in New York, where the artists reside, Neumann could have Billy Taylor play piano for Johnny Hartman, and help make up the rhythm section for Sal Salvador. In groupings from quartet to sextet, Bee Hive kept the sessions intimate, and remarkably every recording was accomplished in a single day, certainly a testament to the skills and professionalism of these artists.

I am the proud owner of several Bee Hive albums, and comparing them sonically to the remastered CDs is a revelatory experience. The work done by remastering engineer Malcolm Addey is remarkable. It is like lifting a veil off, or having your ears cleared after an airline flight. Everything is brighter and warmer. Cymbal strike is compelling, and both the horns, bass, and piano have a snap and briskness that is very noticeable.

Highlights of this massive set are numerous. Here is mention of tracks that stand out:

Disc 1 – Nick Brignola – Baritone Madness:

On “Donna Lee” baritonist, Nick Brignola, along with fellow compatriot, Pepper Adams are off to the races on the Charlie Parker tune. On “Stablemates,” Nick shows off his alto sax bebop pedigree, bringing to mind Phil Woods. Derek Smith is compelling on piano on “Alone Together,” backed by Dave Holland on bass. Acoustics have an “in room” presence here.

Disc 2 – Nick Brignola – Burn Brigade:

There is a unique blend of three baritones (Brignola, Ronnie Cuber, and Cecil Payne), not likely done before. The three are found on “Nick Who’s Blues,” “Our Delight,” and “Groovin’ High.” “Nick Who’s Blues” is a real strut fest, each baritonist free blows as in a jam session, with Cuber having the “lightest” tone. Walter Davis, Jr. is great on the piano blues changes.

Disc 2 – Sal Nistico – Neo Nistico:

At the time this album was recorded it was only the third session for Nistico as a recorded leader. It has a “with a little help from my friends” vibe. Ted Curson and Nick Brignola are aboard. “Like Someone in Love” (just Sal and Ronnie Mathews) and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” are especially memorable.

Disc 3 – Curtis Fuller – Fire and Filigree:

Sal Nistico is back again to accompany, along with Walter Bishop, Jr., Sam Jones, and Freddie Waits. “Ballade for Gabe Wells” is sublime with Fuller’s burnished trombone.

Disc 4 – Dizzy Reece – Manhattan Project:

Though only a sextet, the sound palette is wide with Reece’s trumpet and the two tenors (Clifford Jordan and Charles Davis) casting a wide net. Davis and Jordan blow 15 choruses on “Yule on the Hudson.” Remarkably, this was Davis’ first recording session on tenor sax.

Disc 4/5 – Clifford Jordan – Hyde Park After Dark  & Dr. Chicago:

The ensemble blend of bass trumpet (Cy Touff), with two tenors, and the interplay between Von Freeman and Clifford Jordan stand out. The Freeman/Jordan interaction is like a counter melody conversation between two brothers – one gruff and and the other more smooth-talking.

“I Waited for You” has Jordan in a relaxed groove backed by the rhythm section only. The contrast in tone between Jordan and Freeman found on “I’m Glad There is You” finds Von a bit more exploratory.

On Dr. Chicago, “Something to Live For” features an elegant arrangement by Melba Liston on this Ellington/Strayhorn tune. “If I Had You” has Jordan and pianist, Jaki Byard in an old school late night setting. Jordan is inspired and blows outside the changes.

Disc 6 – Johnny Hartman – Once in Every Life:

This Bee Hive record helped reignite interest in Hartman. The all-star sextet backing Johnny helped elevate this session. There was royalty in the house with Frank Wess, Joe Wilder, and Billy Taylor, especially on “Easy Living.” The duo tracks with guitarist Al Gafa have a poignancy and it is easier to concentrate on Hartman’s still vibrant baritone. This album notched a Grammy nomination for Hartman’s vocals. Sadly, he passed away just three years later.

Disc 7 – Sal Salvador – Star Fingers:

The blending of the low register trombone (Eddie Bert) and baritone sax (Nick Brignola) with the ethereal highs of Salvador’s guitar is like drinking a fine wine followed by a whiskey chaser. The two tracks in which Bert and Brignola sit out – “Darn That Dream” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” remain most memorable to appreciate Salvador’s guitar prowess.

Disc 8 – Sal Salvador Juicy Lucy & Ronnie Mathews Roots, Branches, and Dances:

Sal gets more center stage exposure on this album. “Opus de Funk” sets the swing meter high with drummer Joe Morello propelling Sal and bassist Art Davis into overdrive. Billy Taylor takes over with an extended blues run. “Tune for Two” is a showcase for drummer Morello.

On the Mathews date we find that Ronnie has been away from the music scene for near six years, taking a hiatus to let the public fascination with electric rock to take a breather. Mathews tackles modal themes as shown on “Salima’s Dance.” Frank Foster, on soprano sax, explores tonalities and Mathews’ intensity is evident. Al Foster is a perfect drummer to keep the pot simmering. “Hi Fly” and “Thews Blues” show Ronnie’s mastery of piano blues.

Disc 9 – Ronnie Mathews – Legacy:

Ten months later Ronnie recorded this follow up album. We find a mix of the young tenor saxist, Ricky Ford, and veterans, trumpeter, Bill Hardman, bassist, Walter Booker, and drummer, Jimmy Cobb. Tex Allen’s title track sets the stage for a potent mix of standards and Mathews’ originals. Ronnie takes Thad Jones’ “A Child is Born” solo. He blends both a light and then a heavily percussive attack which makes you sit up and pay close attention.

Disc 10 – Roland Hanna – NY Jazz Quartet in Chicago & Dick Katz In High Profile:

Hanna’s quartet’s recording for Bee Hive was the label’s only recording by an already formed group. On the gentle “Wisteria,” Frank Wess’ tenor could melt the hardened heart. If that does not do the trick, then Frank’s rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” would finish the job.

Katz, known primarily as a big band pianist, also has Frank Wess to assist. The first side of this album is a quintet with Jimmy Knepper added on trombone. The unique flute/trombone combo sets a jaunty high/low tone on “Laverne Walk” and “No Matter What.” Side B of the album was recorded the next day with four tracks of piano trio.

Disc 11 – Junior Mance – Truckin’ and Trackin’:

The funkiest down home album in the Bee Hive catalog is this issue. Surely the album’s title is an indication of what’s to come. Having David “Fathead” Newman on sax and flute, and recording “Mean Old Amtrak” with its R & B roots sets the tone for some righteous testifying. Mance is right at home playing the blues, while Newman is firmly in his own element here. Hank Crawford’s “Truckin” continues the groove.

Disc 12 – Arnett Cobb – Keep on Pushin’:

The final Bee Hive album was recorded by Arnett Cobb in June, 1984. Its swing predates bop. Tenor saxist Cobb brought together Basie sidemen, Al Grey and Joe Newman to complete the front line. Backed by a dream rhythm section of Junior Mance, George Duvivier, and Panama Francis, Cobb’s set is a relaxed session highlighting Arnett’s breathy vibrato. “Blues for Lisette” will get your head nodding in time. Mance, Grey, and Newman all contribute but this is Arnett’s date and on the gospel song, “Deep River” with only Duvivier accompanying, Arnett delivers.

There is a treasure trove of goodies on The Complete Bee Hive Sessions. Bless Mosaic Records for undertaking this labor of love. Only a label with integrity and a love of jazz in all of its forms would take on a project of this magnitude. Jazz fans have waited for years with hopes of Jim and Susan Neumann agreeing to have the entire Bee Hive collection released in remastered format on CD. This set is out now in a limited 5000 set pressing. Don’t be left out. You can order your set through Mosaic Records web site pronto. Your ears will thank you.

—Jeff Krow

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