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On the Town: Verve's Latest Master Edition Reissues

Under the banner of the huge Verve Music Group comes some of the greatest jazz catalogs of recent vintage, including Verve, Mercury, ABC Paramount, and A M/CTI. Fortunately, the mother company has seen fit to a balanced reissue program that draws liberally from all the catalogs. Of the several reissue programs they have, the main one is their Master Edition series, which features deluxe gatefold covers, photographs, new liners, and restored 24-bit sound. Very briefly, we take a quick survey here of the latest Verve Master Editions.

If there was one artist who seemed to be the darling of Norman Granz during the producer's stay at Clef/Verve, it would have to be pianist OSCAR PETERSON. Even taking into account Peterson's capacious catalog, the major cornerstone of his jazz legacy is arguably his work for Verve. Although much of it has been released on disc, it has taken up until now for the reissue of the celebrated ON THE TOWN WITH THE OSCAR PETERSON TRIO (Verve 543 834). Recorded live in Toronto in 1958, this set features the Nat Cole-inspired trio format of piano, guitar, and bass (with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown performing the latter two functions). To hear this group wax rhapsodic on a great set of standards and over the din of the crowd is pleasure enough, but an extra bonus comes with five additional performances heard here for the first time.

Another pianist of undeniable talents, BUD POWELL was regrettably stricken with psychological problems that followed him throughout his short career. While it may be his Blue Note sides that shine brightest for Powell fanatics, there's certainly material to be mined from the Norman Granz era. JAZZ GIANT (Verve 543 832) collects the complete output from a trio session in February of 1949 and year later in 1950. Drummer Max Roach is a mainstay, with bassist Ray Brown appearing on the first date and Curley Russell on the second. Powell is in excellent form throughout, displaying a highly filigreed sound that puts virtuosity at the forefront. In addition to some obvious standards, don't miss the sublime Powell originals "Tempus Fugit," "So Sorry, Please," "Celia," and "I'll Keep Loving You."

Coming from the Mercury catalog, we go back to 1955 for the debut of a popular but still underrated trumpeter. As the story goes, brothers NAT and CANNONBALL ADDERLEY came to New York the summer of '55 in order for the latter to pursue college studies at New York University. After sitting in with Oscar Pettiford, both musicians landed record debuts as leaders, Cannonball's on Savoy and Nat's on Mercury. INTRODUCING NAT ADDERLEY (Verve 543 828) finds the brothers in the heavy company of Horace Silver, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes. Aside from the one standard "I Should Care," all the tunes are by Cannonball and Nat and each one manages to find a new road to familiar territory. Certainly impressive for a maiden voyage, Nat's performance reveals an individualistic bent that continues to mark him as one of jazz music's unsung heroes.

While their greatest commercial success would come with a distinguished series of Columbia albums, the vocal trio LAMBERT, HENDRICKS ROSS hit the heights early on with the ambitious program assembled on the 1957 release SING A SONG OF BASIE (Verve 543 827). Produced by Creed Taylor and initially released on ABC Paramount, this landmark album was subsequently reissued on Impulse and had been available previously on compact disc. This new version gives us the original cover, improved sound quality, and three bonus tracks. The art of vocalese, fitting lyrics to instrumental solos, was virtually defined here, with such Basie classics as "Everyday," "Blues Backstage," and "Avenue C" obtaining a full big band sound through the use of overdubbing. Simply put, this collection belongs in any comprehensive collection.

Another item from the ABC Paramount catalog (which was home to a variety of jazz and popular artists before the Impulse subdivision was formed solely to document jazz releases), WOW! (Verve 549 372) brings us some tasty and soulful morsels from organist BILL DOGGETT, a largely talented and sadly underrated artist who will always best be remembered for his R B hit "Honky Tonk." Active until his untimely death in 1996, Doggett artfully straddled the line between jazz and pop sensibilities and introduced such fine players as Billy Butler and Bubba Brooks. The working group assembled on this 1964 session tackles a program of originals that spotlights Doggett's refined style, the end result being a charming set that remains vital and will serve to beef up Doggett's meager catalog.

Had it not been for the tragic car accident that took EDDIE COSTA'S life at the young age of thirty-one, chances are that the pianist/vibist would have become one of the most significant mainstream artists of his generation. As it stands now, the few records he did cut as a leader back in the late '50s have become collectors' items fetching outrageous prices on the used market. On the surface, GUYS AND DOLLS LIKE VIBES (Verve 549 366) seems like it might be nothing more that a big label attempt to cash in on the fortunes of a Broadway show. Nothing could be farther from the truth, this 1958 set serving as one of Costa's most rewarding recitals. Backed by an edition of pianist Bill Evans' trio with drummer Paul Motian, we find Costa performing exclusively on vibraphone and contributing the creative arrangements for tunes that have since become standards. Too long unavailable, not much more needs to be said about an album that should be required listening for anyone with a passion for lyrical and intelligent jazz of the modern era.

Acknowledged as one of the most beneficial relationships in jazz history, ELLA FITZGERALD'S long tenure with producer Norman Granz's Verve label produced some of the greatest vocal jazz of its kind. While the "Songbook" series will largely serve as her legacy, Fitzgerald was recorded in a great variety of settings over the years, thereby keeping her work fresh and motivating. ELLA SINGS BROADWAY (Verve 549 373) may not be one of her better-known records, but all that might change with this long overdue reissue. A solid set of twelve Broadway chestnuts is served up by arranger Marty Paich and Fitzgerald responds to the occasion with characteristic élan. Lesser known items compete with such titles as "If I Were a Bell" and "Show Me." All in all, this 1962 gem demands a wider audience and Fitzgerald fans are guaranteed not to be disappointed.

With so much of SARAH VAUGHAN'S recorded legacy justifiably available on disc, it might seem surprising that one of her most curious and gratifying albums remained unissued for so long. I had heard VIVA VAUGHAN (Verve 549 374) a few years ago and had gone to great lengths trying to find a playable copy of what I consider to be an absolute masterpiece. The few copies that did manage to show up on rare record auctions seemed to be fetching high prices and the chances of losing to overseas bidders were palpable. Suffice it to say, my objectivity is surely in question, but the sparkle to be found on this 1965 set is anything but questionable. Produced by Quincy Jones and sporting arrangements by Frank Foster, VIVA VAUGHAN was this singer's singular effort in exploring the Brazilian sounds of the period and even unlikely material such as "Mr. Lucky" and "Fascinating Rhythm" takes on a seductive charm that becomes addictive and captivating. Enough said!

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