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A Grand Day For Swinging

When it comes to vintage jazz of the '50s and '60s, nobody has a larger archive of independent material as does Fantasy, Inc. Not taking into account their pop and blues holdings, the company counts among its jazz labels the Prestige, Riverside/Jazzland, Pablo, and Contemporary catalogs. It has been largely due to their Original Jazz Classics program over the past decade or more that much of this great legacy of jazz recordings has come to light for new generations to explore and enjoy. Even despite very active reissue campaigns, the sheer number of titles from the above mentioned labels will allow for many more reissues in the coming years. In this brief overview, we take a look at nine more OJC titles that will have a high desirability factor among those who dig the classic hard bop sounds of the '50s and '60s.

A very classy guitarist who, along with Tal Farlow and possibly Chuck Wayne, established the cool guitar sound of the '50s, MUNDELL LOWE recorded a few classic Riverside dates of which A GRAND NIGHT FOR SWINGING (OJC 1940) is the most recent to be given a second life on compact disc. This 1957 set puts the guitarist in the company of pianist Billy Taylor and a fine rhythm section that also includes drummer Ed Thigpen. Plus, add tart alto saxophonist Gene Quill on three cuts and you have an exemplar of a valuable late '50s blowing session. On a program of mainly standards, Taylor and Lowe get the lion's share of solo space and mainstream guitar fans will easily find much to suit their predilection.

The last of JOHNNY GRIFFIN'S many Riverside dates as a leader to see compact disc reissue, GRAB THIS! (OJC 1941) is also one of Griffin's more atypical sessions. Recorded during the early summer of 1962 while Griffin was on the West Coast, this album joins other productive goods from the sojourn including a live date with Wes Montgomery and Griffin's own DO NOTHING 'TIL YOU HEAR FROM ME. With organist Paul Bryant on hand and producer Richard Bock at the controls, this set has all the markings of a Pacific Jazz session of the time. Griffin responds well to the "down home" surroundings and is typically fluid on his own title track and "63rd Street Theme." A sanctimonious Bryant original, "Offering Time," provides further evidence of East and West Coast sensibilities mixing with suitable aplomb.

Staying with the Californian theme, up next are two reissues from producer Lester Koenig's Contemporary imprimatur. Although it was previously available as an OJC on record and cassette, it has taken some time to get trumpeter JOE GORDON'S 1961 magnum opus to compact disc. LOOKIN' GOOD! (OJC 1934) was recorded just about a year and a half before the tragic death of Gordon in a fire. While the trumpeter had already worked with an impressive array of talent, including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, and Shelly Manne, never before had he been given the opportunity to so fully express himself not only as a trumpeter but also as a fine songwriter. Starting with "Terra Firma Irma" (a feminine cousin to Duke Pearson's "Jeannine") and developing over the course of seven other originals with such creative titles as "Non-Viennese Waltz Blues," Gordon speaks with authority and one can only revel in the creative bliss of this sadly neglected genius. Not to go without mention are the inspired contributions of alto man Jimmy Woods and drummer Milt Turner. Bravo!

Although best known these days as valued contributor to the works of actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood, LENNIE NIEHAUS was known as simply another talented writer and alto saxophonist trying to make his mark on the West Coast scene during the '50s. The reissue of VOL.1: THE QUINTETS (OJC 1933) brings together sessions from 1954 (his first as a leader) and 1956 and highlights the work of two very different ensembles. The earliest sides put Lennie's alto alongside the horns of Jack Montrose and Bob Gordon and a pianoless rhythm section of Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne. The other 'quintet' adds pianist Hampton Hawes and trumpeter/valve trombonist Stu Williamson to the mix. The tunes are largely standards with Niehaus contributing some adventurous and swinging charts that take advantage of advanced counterpoint. Our leader's alto is in the best tradition of Parker and Konitz, yet there's a freshness of approach and spirit to the writing that still sounds vital today.

Our last selections come from the Prestige catalog and taking them in chronological order, TUBA SOUNDS (OJC 1936) is up first. This session, featuring RAY DRAPER on tuba, is from March of 1957 and is special for many reasons. First of all, it's not often that tuba has been treated as a lead instrument in jazz and this fact becomes all the more remarkable when considering that Draper was all of just 16 years old when he cut this date. This would also mark the debut of a young and promising trumpeter by the name of Webster Young, a figure who disappeared all too soon from the jazz scene. Furthermore, drummer Ben Dixon (future sideman for Lou Donaldson and John Patton) makes his debut in the recording studio, with Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron delivering some of the most obscure performances from their respective catalogs. Draper's bebop mixes well with Waldron's often moody and modal underpinnings. Without a doubt, Draper makes the tuba sing and this set is more than enough proof of that fact, while being an exemplar of Prestige's blowing sessions of the '50s.

Detroit native CURTIS FULLER had little trouble making a big splash in the New York jazz community considering the innovations he had made in combining the bebop sensibilities of J.J. Johnson with the swing possibilities extolled by players such as Lawrence Brown and Vic Dickenson. He landed a contract with Bob Weinstock fairly quickly and began to record several albums, a few of which were given belated releases for some inexplicable reason. 1957's CURTIS FULLER AND HAMPTON HAWES WITH FRENCH HORNS (OJC 1942) sports a no nonsense title that adequately sums up the program. Making a rare East Coast appearance, Hawes is the ringer here, along with the two French horns played by Julius Watkins and David Amram. In typical fashion, producer Teddy Charles provides the stimulus for a creative and vibrant straight-ahead date that benefits from his skills as a writer and arranger. Highlights include "Roc and Troll," the Watkins/Amram dialogue from "Five Spot," and Sahib Shihab's tart alto sax work throughout.

Another set that benefits from the leadership of TEDDY CHARLES is the collective project billed as THE PRESTIGE JAZZ QUARTET (OJC 1937). This 1957 session brings together Charles on vibes, Mal Waldron on piano, Addison Farmer on bass, and Jerry Segal on drums. Considering the instrumentation, comparisons with the Modern Jazz Quartet are certainly understandable, yet there's a harder edge to the swing and a mysterious aura to Waldron's writing that sets this group apart. Still, one can't help but notice that Charles' lengthy "Take Three Parts Jazz" is cut from the same cloth as some of John Lewis' programmatic suites. Monk's "Friday the 13th" is a daring addition, bearing in mind that the music of this iconoclastic composer was taken seriously by so few at the time, with Steve Lacy being the exception. While this record seemed to be a sort of one-shot affair at the time, it holds up remarkably well today with its intriguing mix of hard bop and freer structures.

The genesis of a 1961 recording to disclose the work of an up and coming trombonist named Willie Wilson is shrouded in mystery, only to be further sullied by subsequent releases of the material on a variety of labels and under the names of several of the sideman who appeared on the original album. It wouldn't be until the end of the '60s that the music in reference would see a formal issue on Prestige under the name of pianist DUKE PEARSON and the title of DEDICATION (OJC 1939), with Wilson's untimely death serving as impetus for the release. Cut in the spirit of many a Blue Note classic, this set finds Wilson sharing the front line with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. In addition, the aforementioned Pearson fills out the rhythm section with bassist Thomas Howard and drummer Lex Humphries. The writing is strong throughout and Wilson takes a nice feature on "The Nearness of You." It all adds up to one hell of a ride, worthy of rediscovery by today's audience.

Finally, we come to a 1965 landmark that has been at the top of many collectors' lists for years. JAY HAWK TALK (OJC 1938) is an especially rare solo date for trumpeter CARMELL JONES. Although he had been active on the West Coast for a time and had recorded a set for Pacific Jazz (it too is highly sought after, but has yet to be reissued), Jones was a vital member of the Horace Silver Quintet when JAY HAWK TALK was recorded, as was the drummer on the date, Roger Humphries. Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris, and George Tucker complete the all-star quintet and the program is evenly split between standards and Jones' originals ("Beepdurple" has got to be one of the cleverest titles to emerge from the era). The longest track of the set is "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and the heated bebop atmosphere brings out the best in Heath, Jones, and Harris. Too long unavailable, JAY HAWK TALK is likely to be considered one of the most important reissues of recent vintage.

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