As if the recent reissues of music by a roster of major American and German jazz artists from the archives of Südwestrundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting) weren’t gift enough, along comes MPS Records (Musik Produktion Schwarzwald) with their Kultur Spiegel series and the promise of the current release of 25 remastered albums and by the end of the year, the digital release of their entire back catalog. Among the names scheduled for release are Lionel Hampton, Billy Taylor, Count Basie, Sun Ra, and Stephane Grapelli, and that barely scratches the surface. American jazz artists found an eager and appreciative audience as well as a vital jazz scene in Germany after the Second World War, and the positive atmosphere often brought out the best in them. There are certainly some gems soon to be made available.
And the MPS recorded sound is top rate. They are known for the quality of the sound on their discs—piano great Oscar Peterson listened to one of their recordings of one of his sessions and exclaimed: “I never heard myself like this before!” Great musicians, fine sound—sounds like a combination that’s hard to beat.
For example, Jim Hall, certainly a name that belongs near the top of any reasonable list of great jazz guitarists, shows his stuff in a 1969 trio recording, Jim Hall in Berlin: It’s Nice to Be with You. Working with bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Daniel Humair, he runs through a set of eight tunes ranging from the Jimmy Webb pop winner made famous by The Fifth Dimension, “Up, Up And Away” through a swinging take on the standard, “My Funny Valentine” to Duke Ellington’s classic “In a Sentimental Mood.” The Hall set includes three originals, “Young One, For Debra,” “Blue Joe,” and “Romaine,” as well as the album’s title tune written by his wife Jane Herbert. It is a fine set showing off the guitarist in his many moods and a welcome addition to the Hall discography.
Then there’s piano master Hank Jones – perhaps unfortunately best remembered as Marilyn Monroe’s accompanist when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden – who shows up in an excellent trio recording of his own, Have You Met This Jones? Recorded in 1978, he plays with Swiss bassist Isla Eckinger and German drummer Kurt Bong, both of whom rise to the occasion. Indeed, he plays three tunes he had previously recorded on his 1955 release, The Trio, where he was joined by bassist Wendell Marshall and drummer Kenny Clarke: “There’s a Small Hotel,” “We’re All Together,” and “Now’s the Time.” The (remastered) ’78 versions hold their own. The set also includes his brother Thad’s “Portions,” Ellington’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” and the jazz standard many of us will always associate with jazz broadcaster Fred Robbins, “Robbin’s Nest.”
These are two fine albums, and from what MPS has available, it looks like there is plenty more to come.
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