1957 was a prolific year for Red Garland. In addition to his duties as pianist in the Miles Davis Quintet, he also recorded a number of sessions as leader of his own group.
In addition to the basic trio of Garland (piano), George Joyner (bass), and Arthur Taylor (drums), the quintet included Donald Byrd (trumpet), and fellow Davis alumni John Coltrane (sax).
In the space of a relatively short period of time, they managed to record 16 tracks of various lengths, which were then split up into four albums. Soul Junction, All Mornin’ Long, High Pressure, and finally Dig It were released in staggered intervals over the course of the next few years.
Considering the amount of music recorded in just a couple of month’s time, it is no surprise that the end results were somewhat uneven in quality. Dig It is generally considered to be the least noteworthy of the bunch, as it was the last to see the light of day.
The theory has some merit, although Dig It does contain some excellent work by all five musicians. It also includes a stunning appearance from another moonlighting Miles Davis associate, bassist Paul Chambers.
Chambers’ simultaneous pluck-and-bow technique on his stand-up bass is used to amazing effect on the all too brief “Crazy Rhythm.” The song is credited as a trio cut, and only Red, drummer Art Taylor and Chambers are present, which makes Chambers’ solo stand out all the more.
Although Red Garland is ostensibly the “star” of the show, it is (unsurprisingly) John Coltrane who provides the fireworks. Dig It opens with a version of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce.” About 30 seconds in, Coltrane steps up with a truly superb solo.
Much has been made of his “sheets of sound” style and it's something that divides jazz audiences to this day. I am a fan of everything JC did, up to and including the late-period, stratospheric Impulse! recordings. Yet I find this solo to be an excellent example of what I consider to be his purest period.
He had certainly found the method of playing he would come to use almost exclusively later on, but here it is tempered in the context of one of Bird’s defining bop compositions. The result is a near perfect bridge between what had come before, and what still lay ahead.
Cut three is titled “CTA,” and while it does feature another nice Coltrane solo, drummer Arthur Taylor’s presence is the most notable. This should come as no surprise, though, as it was originally recorded under his name, and released on his Prestige album, Taylor’s Wailers.
Including someone else’s song on a Red Garland record undoubtedly fueled the claims of “rip-off.” But the company defended the decision by pointing out that Taylor’s LP was (at the time) out of print, and they were doing his fans a favor by adding it here.
I think the biggest rap on Dig It, however, pertains to “Lazy Mae.“ On the original Prestige LP, this track filled all of side two, clocking in at just over 16 minutes. To be honest, the title is apt. Roughly the first eight minutes of the song are taken up with a perfunctory piano vamp that never goes anywhere.
Coltrane comes in with a decent solo, and trumpeter Donald Byrd does his bit, but all in all, “Lazy Mae” probably should have been left in the can.
Although Dig It is by no means a bad collection, it does smack of good old record-label, cash-in product. Still, there are high points that should not be ignored, especially for John Coltrane fans. He is, as always, fantastic.