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Music Review: Five Recent Original Jazz Classics Remasters

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The Concord Music Group recently added five new entries to its Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. All presented with their original cover art and liner notes, and in some cases previously unreleased bonus tracks, this series helps preserve jazz history. The latest batch includes: Miles Davis featuring Sonny Rollins – Dig (1951), Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen To You (1958), Bill Evans Trio – Waltz For Debby (1961), Vince Guaraldi Trio – Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962), and Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar (1963).

As Ira Gitler explains in a new essay in the CD booklet, Dig was originally released in the obsolete ten-inch LP format. The five tune track list was expanded by two in 1956 after the twelve-inch LP became standard. Every reissue since has included all seven numbers. Miles Davis assembled a sextet for this October 5th, 1951 session, most notable for the presence of Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone. Nineteen year old Jackie MacLean played alto sax. Walter Bishop was the pianist, while the rhythm section consisted of Tommy Potter on bass and Art Blakey on drums.

The group comes out swinging hard right-off the top with the title track, the first of four Davis originals. The uptempo “Dig” features exciting soloing from all three horn players. Although Gitler asserts Rollins’ squeaky reed during “It’s Only a Paper Moon” doesn’t mar his solo, I have to respectfully disagree (it’s a little annoying). “Denial” is highlighted by the adrenaline rush of Blakey and Davis trading fours. Later in the album, the classic Davis tune “Bluing” serves as the album’s centerpiece. Nearly ten minutes long, Davis’ soloing during this relaxed blues is particularly masterful.

Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen To You hit record stores when Baker, who began his career strictly as a trumpet player, was already established as a popular vocalist. Due to his dulcet singing tone, this is probably the most accessible to non-jazz fans of these five reissues. Baker sings ten standards on the original album, with four alternate takes added to the CD (two of which are previously unreleased). He plays trumpet on most of them, but on some he takes a scat vocal solo instead. The album’s original liner notes make the interesting observation that Baker’s scatting was styled after his horn playing, similar both in tone and in phrasing.

The piano playing by Kenny Drew is the album’s somewhat underrated strength. Drew does an excellent job of accompanying Baker’s vocals, breaking away for highly dexterous, tightly controlled solos. The rhythm section for these sessions was a combination of four musicians. Half the album’s tunes features George Morrow on bass, while the others feature Sam Jones. The drumming is mostly handled by Philly Joe Jones, with Dannie Richmond filling in on three numbers. With most of the songs hovering around the three minute mark, the combo’s function here is supporting their leader. Award winning jazz writer Doug Ramsey contributes an informative new essay to go with the original notes.

Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, June 25th, 1961, the Bill Evans Trio established an very high standard of excellence with Waltz For Debby. Ten days later, bassist Scott LaFaro was killed in a car accident at the age of twenty-five. His legacy (a career that spanned only six years) lives on in this transcendent recording. The work of Evans on piano, LaFaro on bass, and drummer Paul Motian is hypnotic. Their interplay is fascinating, with each member contributing distinctive parts. Evans meditative piano playing is the obvious highlight, but rarely has a rhythm section been so well attuned to their leader.

The original six tune album is augmented with an exploration of “Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)” and three alternate takes of tunes found earlier in the album. The fidelity of the live recording is utterly crystalline, especially considering its vintage. Every time someone so much as coughs (which occurs numerous times during the opener, “My Foolish Heart”), the microphones capture it. Not that listeners want to be distracted by audience noise – the upside is the spine-tinglingly rich nuance audible in each instrument. New liner notes were contributed by the album’s original producer, Orrin Keepnews.

Even if they don’t recognize his name, pianist Vince Guaraldi is one of the best known jazz musicians amongst people who have little to no interest in the genre. Guaraldi composed and performed the indelible scores for numerous Peanuts television specials. Tunes like “Linus and Lucy,” “Charlie Brown Theme,” and “Christmas Time Is Here” are all his work. Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus preceded his Peanuts work, but its best known track reportedly inspired producer Lee Mendelson to hire Guaraldi to score A Charlie Brown Christmas.

That tune, “Cast Your Fate To the Wind,” won Guaraldi a Grammy in 1963 and was covered by many (including non-jazz artists). Kicking off the second half of the album, it’s one of just two Guaraldi originals. As suggested by the album’s title, many of the tunes are Guaraldi’s interpretations of themes from the movie Black Orpheus. These bossa novas make up the album’s first half. Very melodic and often quite swinging, the Vince Guaraldi Trio (Monty Budwig on bass, Colin Bailey on drums) offers up a very accessible brand of Latin jazz. Four of the five bonus tracks are previously unreleased, including an alternate take of “Cast Your Fate To the Wind.”

Wes Montgomery had long been acknowledged as one of the finest jazz guitarists by the time Boss Guitar was released in 1963. Backed by Mel Rhyne on Hammond B-3 organ and Jimmy Cobb on drums, Montgomery demonstrates his astonishing technique. Perhaps most jaw-dropping is the trio’s interaction on “Dearly Beloved” – the passage with Montogomery and Cobb trading fours is stunning. Of the two Montgomery originals found here, “The Trick Bag” climaxes with a thrillingly tense solo from Rhyne, backed by rather agitated fills courtesy of Cobb. An even faster alternate take spotlights more of the same rhythmic ingenuity.

These five reissues were produced by Nick Phillips and boast 24-bit remastering by Joe Tarantino. Jazz fans should thank Concord Music Group for keeping these classic albums in circulation. The packaging is without frills, but the new essays accompanying the original liner notes in each release are welcome additions.

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About The Other Chad

Hi, I'm Chaz Lipp. An old co-worker of mine thought my name was Chad. Since we had two Chads working there at the time, I was "The Other Chad."
  • http://www.alharper.com/ A.L. Harper

    Superb article Chaz/Charles.