Joining what sometimes seems like a flood of major jazz artist reissues come another two albums from Bethlehem Records: Down Home with the Zoot Sims Quartet and Motor City Scene with an all-star lineup led by Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams, both originally recorded in 1960. And while these particular albums may not match up to some of the artist’s best work, when you’re talking about musicians like these, something less than their best is still more than likely to make for a lot of good listening.
Down Home has Sims and his tenor sax swinging his way through a set of older tunes with a rhythm section that includes pianist Dave McKenna, bassist George Tucker, and drummer Dannie Richmond. They open with a speedy reading the Count Basie/Harry Edison jumper “Jive at Five,” and follow with “Doggin’ Around,” which the Basie band recorded back in 1938.
They go even further back with tunes like “Avalon,” “I Cried for You,” and “Bill Bailey.” This last gives McKenna and Tucker a chance to step out, but as you would expect the spotlight is on Sims. McKenna and Sims complement each other on “Goodnight Ladies.” Richmond and Sims put together a dynamic drum and sax climax at the end of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” And Sims’ own “I’ve Heard That Blues Before” (a kind of happy blues) concludes the disc.
If there’s nothing particularly innovative about this set, it is finely honed jazz played with joy. It’s hard to ask for more.
Motor City Scene has a lineup of big names. Along with Byrd and Adams, you’ve got Kenny Burrell on guitar, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Louis Hayes on drums, and no less than Paul Chambers on bass. It’s the kind of album that is bound to raise expectations. Great is what you expect; good is what you get. Good is not great, and it is easy to ask for more.
Adding to that, the album starts with a 10-minute plus, absolutely gorgeous exploration of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Star Dust” by the brilliant Byrd. The bar is set very high. It is a height that leaves the rest of the album just a little short.
“Philson,” the first of two Pepper Adams’ compositions, follows with solos from each of the member of the ensemble, with Chambers perhaps stealing the show. The other Adams piece is “Libeccio,” with the composer front and center. Pianist Errol Garner’s “Trio” has some excellent work from the reliable Flanagan and Byrd and, once again, stands out. The set ends with Thad Jones’ “Bitty Ditty.”
If you have excessively great expectations, these albums may find it hard to live up to them. On the other hand if you’re looking for good listening, look no further.