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Music Review: Gerry Mulligan Sextet – Legends Live: Leiderhalle Stuttgart Nov 22, 1977

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One of the first live concert albums I ever bought was the 1958 World Pacific 12-inch vinyl recording of selections from the Gerry Mulligan Quartet’s 1954 Paris Concert. It was a mono recording, and the concert was one in which Bob Brookmeyer’s trombone had replaced Chet Baker’s trumpet, so expectations were somewhat mixed. But from the moment the French emcee announced, “Voici, le Gerry Mulligan Quartet” and the crowd roared at the opening bars of “Come Out Wherever You Are,” there was no question that this was a cool jazz classic.

There was an excitement in the audience that made its way to the stage and lent a dynamic electricity to the performances. Clips of “Bernie’s Tune” and “Walkin’ Shoes” from the concert are available on YouTube. Sound engineering has no doubt improved by significantly, and it still remains an album against which to measure any and all future live performance recordings.

All this by way of introduction to the newly released Jazzhaus Liederhalle Stuttgart, 1977 Gerry Mulligan Sextet concert in their Legends Live series. This is the third album from the new label formed to release remastered recordings of the best material garnered from the archives of radio and television performances of Südwestrundfunk Stuttgart, Baden-Baden and Mainz. This initial set of releases also includes live albums from the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and the Benny Goodman Orchestra featuring Anita O’Day.

If this new recording doesn’t have quite the electricity of the Paris Concert, it is likely as much due to my emotional investment in the memories of my youth than any fault in the musical performance. Mulligan is as much the master of the progressive sound in ’77 as he was in ’54. And while back then he was intent on showing what an ensemble could do without a piano, the piano is back for the sextet. Thomas Fay plays piano, Dave Samuels, the vibes, Mike Santiago, guitar, George Duvivier, bass and Bobby Rosengarden plays drums. It is a tight ensemble and the music is cool jazz with a fine touch and a modern edge.

Of the nine tracks on the album, seven are original Mulligan compositions. The other two are the Richard Rogers standard, “My Funny Valentine” and the Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn jazz classic, “Satin Doll.”

“For An Unfinished Woman” opens the album with an extended opportunity for solo work by all members of the sextet. Fay does a nice bit on the piano and Duvivier works with the bass. Together, the ensemble builds to a dynamic climax. The laid-back “Line for Lyons” is Mulligan’s tribute to West Coast DJ Jimmy Lyons and dates back to the ’50s.

The other Mulligan pieces include the cleverly titled “Idol Gossip,” “Out Back of the Barn,” “Night Lights,” “Song for Strayhorn” (which makes a nice companion for “Satin Doll”) and “K-4 Pacific.” The latter closes the album with a dynamite 13 minutes of power with some big-time work by Rosengarden on the drums.

Gerry Mulligan in 1977 is at the top of his game, and if this album doesn’t blot out memories of that vinyl disc in its sleeve emblazoned with the flag of France, it isn’t because of any problem with the music. More than likely, it is that there isn’t much that is new that can compete with the passions of youth. That said, you can never have too much Gerry Mulligan. Listen to his elegant “My Funny Valentine,” and you’ll hear what I mean.

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About Jack Goodstein