Putting together an ensemble of all-star jazz musicians for a recording session sounds like a no-brainer. One problem, while it may well seem like it should be a good idea, it doesn’t always produce a great recording. Perhaps expectation are so high, they could never be realized. Perhaps big egos get in the way. Great jazz ensembles require the kind of chemistry that has everyone working together. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t always happen that way.
Fortunately, when Riverside Records’ celebrated producer Orrin Keepnews put together vibraphone virtuoso Milt Jackson and alto saxophone master Cannonball Adderley with an unbeatable rhythm section—pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Percy Heath and classic drummer Art Blakey, he hit the jackpot. This was one group of all-stars who had what it takes to work together. The chemistry was so good, the reissue includes 44 seconds of banter as they got ready to play the disc’s second number. The album that came out of that session, Things Are Getting Better, is an absolute gem.
The 1958 album is once again available in a remastered CD in the Original Jazz Classics series from Concord Record Group. The new edition retains two bonus alternate takes not included on the original but found on previous reissues. While some critics don’t care for the idea of loading down an album with inferior takes (on the theory that had they been any good they would have been used on the original album), it does give the judicious fan an opportunity to make his own judgments. At any rate, the two alternate takes on this disc are in no way inferior filler.
“Blues Oriental” begins the set, a bit of exoticism composed by Jackson. Adderley’s swinging “Things Are Getting Better” follows. Dizzy Gillespie’s take on the chord structure of “Whispering,” “Groovin’ High” (which had become something of a bebop staple) is ripe for a dynamic Jackson solo. Their version of “The Sidewalks of New York” gives the hoary classic a modern vibe, especially with Adderley’s alto solo. The bonus alternate take seems a bit more mellow. Adderley’s “Sounds for Sid” is a blues number the original liner notes say was dedicated to a favorite unnamed disc jockey. Although the new notes suggest a number of possible Sids, my own guess would be the great Symphony Sid Torin. “Just One of Those Things,” “Serves Me Right” and its alternate take complete the reissue.
In recent months there has been a flood of older material from a number of different companies. Some of the albums were classics, some were merely old. If the combination of Adderley and Jackson didn’t quite produce a classic with this album, they came darned close.