Thursday , February 29 2024
A review of classics by Ornette Coleman, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald with Joe Pass.

Music Review: Original Jazz Classics Remasters Roundup

With four new reissues, Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters continues to help keep the legacies of various jazz legends burning bright. These recently remastered albums are unrelated, except for their enduring quality.

Ornette Coleman – Something Else!!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman (1958)

The debut album by one of the most pioneering and influential musicians in jazz history, Something Else!!!! established Ornette Coleman as a unique and exciting voice. His playing style was unusual and distinctly recognizable. The nine tunes here are all Coleman originals, featuring many complex, twisting, unpredictable melodies. The same can be said about the soloing. The quintet includes the late trumpet innovator Don Cherry. Something Else!!!! was the first step in Coleman’s quest to push the existing boundaries and established “rules” of jazz.

With its winding melody and wild soloing, the album-opening “Invisible” announces Coleman as a daring new voice. Don Cherry is almost as prominent, delivering his own brand of odd phrasing throughout. His solo on “When Will the Blues Leave?” is among the finest passages on the album. The breakneck closer “The Sphinx” is thrilling to listen to with tempo changes in the melody and rapid fire soloing by Coleman, Cherry, pianist Walter Norris, and drummer Billy Higgins.

At 81, Ornette Coleman is still alive and active, a true rarity among players of his generation (sad but true). Though he would soon get much farther out than he did on Something Else!!!! (his 1960 Free Jazz is still disorienting to the uninitiated), this is an album of great importance in jazz history and provides a highly engrossing listening experience.

Chet Baker – In New York (1958)

Reissued nearly a decade later under the name Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Chet Baker’s In New York was originally recorded and released in 1958. The quartet of Baker on trumpet, Al Haig on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones expands to a quintet for half the album, adding the tenor sax of Johnny Griffin. The title is significant as Baker was a leading figure in the West Coast Jazz movement. This record found him intermingling his cool approach with a hard bop sound. In New York was the first of Baker’s albums for Riverside Records, a New York City label.

Pianist Haig, a decade prior to being acquitted of murdering his wife, provides valuable foundation throughout – check out his laid-back lines on Miles Davis’ “Solar.” Chambers turns in a tremendous bowed bass solo on “Hotel 49,” a standout track. Each member of the combo is particularly stellar on this cut, with an edgy and intense drum solo from Jones. The previously release bonus track, Fletcher Henderson’s “Soft Winds,” is easily as good as anything on the album, featuring another standout solo by Philly Joe Jones.

Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (1959)

Recorded during two dates at San Francisco’s Fugazi Hall during October of 1959, Thelonious Alone in San Francisco is the second of three solo piano albums by Thelonious Monk. The earlier album, Thelonious Himself (1957), wasn’t quite as “alone” as this one – one track featured accompaniment from John Coltrane on sax and Wilbur Ware on bass. Not so with San Francisco, which is truly Monk solo from start to finish.

There is a low-key vibe to this collection of originals, both new and old, and standards. “Bluehawk,” a then-new tune, is a stubborn, stilted blues built around a frequently repeating four-note riff. A more swaggering blues, “Round Lights,” was – according to the liner notes – named after the chandeliers in Fugazi Hall. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart,” a standard by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, receives a relatively straightforward reading, tinged with Monk’s characteristic dissonance. An alternate take of “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie” is carried over from a previously released reissue.

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass – Easy Living (1986)

The collaboration between the “First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald and jazz guitarist Joe Pass began more than a decade before the release of 1986’s Easy Living. This was their fourth and final album together. Even as Fitzgerald was nearing age 70, her tone and phrasing remained excellent. Most of these 15 standards are ballads, with an occasional mid-tempo number thrown in. “Love For Sale” grooves in a relaxed manner, with Pass expertly creating a quietly propulsive accompaniment. “On Green Dolphin Street” is slower and more meditative than how most artists usually approach it.

Easy Living is not a major work in either Pass or Fitzgerald’s career. But with artists of this caliber, even a sleepy, relaxed trip through the Great American Songbook is worth a listen. This reissue is augmented by two previously unreleased tracks. Tacked on at the end of the disc are alternate takes of “Don’t Be That Way” and “Love For Sale.”

These latest releases in the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series boast excellent fidelity. The packaging is simple. Each album includes a folded booklet with a newly written essay in addition to the original liner notes. It’s nice to know that this series is keeping albums in print that might otherwise be forgotten.

About The Other Chad

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."

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