Dizzy Gillespie And His Orchestra – Gillespiana ★★★★★

GillespianaPoll Winners Records

Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Joe Wilder, John Frosk (t), Urbie Green, Frank Rehak, Britt Woodman (tb), Paul Faulise (b-tb), Julius Watkins, Gunther Schuller, Jimmy Buffington, Al Richman, Morris Scott, William Lester (fhrn), Don Butterfield (tu), Leo Wright (as, fl), Lalo Schifrin (p), Art Davis (b), Chuck Lampkin (d), Candido Camero (cga), Jack Del Rio (bgo) and Willie Rodriguez (tb). Rec. 1960

Arguably, this is as much Lalo Schifrin’s album as it is Dizzy’s, in that the gifted young Argentinian pianist wrote and arranged this extended work in 1958, when aged just 26. But, it would take another two years before someone pressed the record button. While on some mid-1950s recording sessions, Dizzy didn’t always extend himself, Gillespiana proves quite the reverse.

From the opening ‘Prelude’ right through to ‘Toccata’, by way of ‘Blues’, ‘Panamericana’ and ‘Africana’, his commitment to the project is total. Indeed, this is generally considered to be the best album Diz recorded for Norman Granz – no argument there. It’s nothing short of dazzling, with Schifrin’s concept of having Diz’s regular quintet continually spurred on by the thoroughly dynamic punch provided by a blazing 12-piece brass section plus tuba and a trio of fiery Latin percussionists. Overall, it was a sound that greatly informed Schifrin’s future work in the movies. For once, the bonus tracks added here are, ‘er, a bonus! Just nine days after the studio recordings Dizzy turned up in Paris with four members of the original session: Wright, Lalo, Davis and Lampkin who, with great vigour, performed four of the five sections of Gillespiana, before an ecstatic audience of Parisians. Without question, one of this year’s most worthy reissues.

– Roy Carr

Bill Evans – Portrait In Jazz ★★★★★

Bill EvansPoll Winners Records

Bill Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b), Paul Motian (d) plus (1 track) Miles Davis (t), John Coltrane (ts), Paul Chambers (b) and Jimmy Cobb (d). Rec. 28 Dec 1959, 30 Apr 1960 and 2 Mar 1959

Portrait is something else. The first session with LaFaro as well as Motian was such a shock to non-free-jazz mainstream fans, and some of its spontaneous interaction so perfect, that a colleague at the time thought it must have all been written out in advance. But the tightrope act of LaFaro in simultaneously supporting and leading Evans is still a joy to hear, and in retrospect the amount of motivic development between them is often crucial to the overall effect. Evans is free to continue and extend his aggressive early work and also to develop the astringent spaciness of ballads such as ‘When I Fall In Love’ and his own ‘Blue In Green’.

The reissuer has got it right in choosing the longer mono take of the brilliant ‘Autumn Leaves’, and the addition of one Miles track doesn’t seem out of place, showing the subtly different architecture of tempo changes on all three ‘Blue In Greens’ – three, because the remaining bonus tracks are from a Birdland airshot (previously on Fresh Sound) that contains not only that tune but also versions of ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’. And, if you think LaFaro is adventurous on the studio session, you should hear his almost Mingus-like work here.

– Brian Priestley

Duke Ellington – At the Cotton Club ★★★★★

Duke EllingtonStoryville

Duke Ellington (p), Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams (t), Rex Stewart (cnt), Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown (tb), Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney (reeds), Fred Guy (g), Billy Taylor (b), Sonny Greer (d) and Ivie Anderson (v. Rec. 1938 and 1939)

This double CD set of tracks taken from broadcasts from the Cotton Club between March – May 1938, three tracks Ellington’s Swedish tour in 1939 and a brief DVD film clip of Ellington at the Cotton Club get their stars not so much for the music, but for the historical significance of this collection. While some of these tracks had been previously released on vinyl (Jazz Panorama, for example), the six broadcasts from the Cotton Club (in various degrees of completeness) provide a valuable window into Ellington’s musical world of the period. One of the bona fide jazz greats and musical greats irrespective of genre of the 20th century, there is a tendency today to laud everything he produced as works of genius, or at the very least, works of aspiring genius. In fact, musically, Ellington went off the boil creatively in the mid-1930s, following the death of his mother on 25 May 1935. It devastated him, the New York Amsterdam News going as far to report that “the impression was given that Duke Ellington had cancelled all future engagements on account of the death of his mother,” as he withdrew for a while from the public eye.

Signs that he was recovering came with ‘Reminiscing in Tempo’ (dedicated to his mother) but his prodigious creativity had certainly slowed. Any improvement he was making was drastically set back when his father died on 28 October 1937. Musically, then, the Ellington band was treading water during this period, there were hits – ‘Solitude’, for example – but these tracks illustrate just how far behind the competition Ellington had fallen, in terms of arranging, rhythm and concept. The Goodman band had emerged, in Francis Newton’s words as “the Queen of the musical battlefield” and you only have to contrast Fletcher Henderson’s dynamic ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ or the svelte ‘Down South Camp Meeting’ for Goodman with Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’ on this set (both versions) whose uncomfortable, syncopated phrasing was more appropriate to 1928 than 1938, to get a sense of the creative hiatus of this period.

Much of Ellington’s repertoire here comes from the early 1930s or earlier – even the piece entitled “Swing Session,” a solo piano broadcast from Saturday Night Swing Club on 8 May 1937, turns out to be none other than ‘Soda Fountain Rag’, Ellington’s first composition. Of course, Ellington would bounce back – and how. Following his tour of Sweden in 1939, where three rare tracks from the Konserthuset on 29 April that year are added at the end of CD 2, Ellington would be rejuvenated. He broke with his management (Irving Mills), ended his association with Columbia, moving to RCA Victor, and brought in three key signings, Ben Webster on tenor sax, Jimmy Blanton on bass and the arranger and composer Billy Strayhorn, and the rest, as they say is history. The wonder of it all is how completely he reinvented himself, leaving these tracks as testimony to how far musically he moved to achieve the undisputed heights achieved by the 1940-41 band.

– Stuart Nicholson


Jeremy Pelt – The Talented Mr. Pelt ★★★★★

Jeremy PeltHigh Note

Jeremy Pelt (t, flhn), J.D. Allen (ts), Danny Grissett (p), Dwayne Burno (b) and Gerald Cleaver (d). Rec. September 2010

A year ago, Pelt’s previous CD Men of Honor (my record of the year for 2010) was the first brand-new recording that this writer has ever awarded five stars. This new one is, arguably, even better and probably contains the leader’s best yet recorded work. His solos – thoughtful, always harmonically and rhythmically challenging – seem to reach an even higher level of creativity than usual. Bassist Burno, in his informative heartfelt liner notes, confirms what I wrote about Men of Honor. That this is a band not an all-star pick-up group. No clash of egos, but a solid commitment to stay together because of their mutual friendship and respect and the strength of the music they make. On this, their third CD as a group, Jeremy himself has written almost all the material, with the exception of a seldom remembered Peggy Lee-Cy Coleman ballad called ‘I’m In Love Again’ (which mainly features heart-breaking flugelhorn) and one of the album highlights, an unexpectedly intriguing, floating composition basically in 3/4 by pianist Anthony Wonsey entitled ‘Paradise Lost’, which towards the end has a simply superb drum solo by Gerald Cleaver.

There’s also a new version of Myron Walden’s incredibly moody, pedal permeated ‘Pulse’, first recorded (sounding very different) by its author a decade ago, on which Burno created a definitive bass line which has remained constant ever since and recently appeared again on Myron’s tenor album, Momentum. Pelt’s five originals are all in different veins, full of harmonic subtleties (like the mysterious Harmon-muted ‘All My Thoughts Are of You’) and rhythmic tension (‘When The Time is Right’). ‘Only’ has further interesting take-off points and terrific JD tenor and Grissett piano, while the closer ‘David and Goliath’ is their live set high spot, with exciting interactive group and solo work. As Burno says: “We slay Goliath every night and have fun doing it.” If history is kind and just, it will remember this Jeremy Pelt Quintet and its collective members as one of the most important and creative bands to emerge in jazz since Miles’ mid-1960s group. A great recording by a band that is THAT good!

– Tony Hall

Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus ★★★★★

Sonny RollinsPoll Winners Records

Sonny Rollins (ts), Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant (p), Doug Watkins, George Morrow (b) and Max Roach (d). Rec. 22 June 1956 plus bonus tracks Rec. 22 December 1955

For once, an album title that doesn’t misrepresent the artist. Newk has been making music of the very highest calibre for well over half a century, but this session could just well be his greatest achievement. And like so many classic albums of the period, it was taped in a single session, in the summer of 1956. The playing of all four musicians concerned: Rollins, Tommy Flanagan, Watkins and Roach is of the highest order to where the passing of 54-years hasn’t in any way diminished its sheer vitality. Truth: it sounds even more contemporary today than way back then with recordist Rudy Van Gelder faithfully capturing the sheer depth of Rollins’ delivery. Though ‘Saint Thomas’ and ‘Moritat’ (‘Mack The Knife’) are this album’s best known tracks a knowing interpretation of ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ is surely the jewel in this crown. As a bonus the Work Time album, recorded six months earlier has the leader and Roach bookending Ray Bryant and George Morrow and, as they say, adds extra value. For budding saxophonists, your first lesson starts here.

– Roy Carr

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