‘Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band In Concert’ (recorded 1960) – London Jazz News
‘Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in concert’
(SteepleChase SCCD 36502. Album review by Len Weinreich)
In the late 1940s hipperati jazz first recorded Gerry Mulligan as a rookie composer and arranger sneakily inserting bebop flavors into the big band charts of Elliot Lawrence, Claude Thornhill and Gene Krupa. In 1949, his notoriety grew thanks to his total immersion in the mythical “Birth of the Cool” Nonet by Miles Davis for which he provided original grids and arrangements and held the baritone chair.
Until then (notable exceptions: the revered Harry Carney in the Ellington Orchestra, Serge Chaloff in Woody Herman’s Herd and, to a lesser extent, Jack Washington with Basie), the only function of baritone saxophonists was to anchor the sections big band reeds and/or occasionally provide cheesy novelty effects. But Mulligan, displaying the benign influence of Lester Young, redefined the role of the baritone by developing an individual timbre (significantly, his first wind instrument was the Bb clarinet) coupled with fearsomely skilled technique. Describing the unwieldy horn as “a butterfly with hiccups”, giving it a lyrical voice, he liberated the baritone forever.
But Mulligan’s big moment came in 1952 at the Haig club in Los Angeles when he shocked aficionados by forming an iconoclastic quartet with the trumpeter Chet Baker who bent the piano. Backed only by bass and drums, their two-part harmonies and counterpoint produced an airy, uncluttered sound like no other. Haig’s audiences were transported to a new level of cool.
After applying his minimalist approach to disrupt the world of jazz, innate arranger Mulligan has puzzled fans and critics alike with a twist in his approach. Instead of pursuing his bare-bones instrumentation, drawing on his talents as an arranger, he opts for lavish sets, draping his baritone in the dense textures and voluptuous harmonies of a full-fledged jazz orchestra. Explaining why, eight years after his triumphant debut in Haig, he was heard in 1960 surrounded by 14 star musicians at two concerts in Copenhagen and West Berlin.
In fact, it was a glorified arranger’s festival. Mulligan shared chart duties with the valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (the unofficial co-founder of the Concert Jazz Band, according to Neil Tesser’s informative liner notes), and highly experienced arranger, Bill Holman.
The Danish concert opens with the thorny theme of Mulligan, total chaosbefore Friend Clarke‘s walking bass and Mel LewisThe drums introduced the band to the music of Johnny Mandel Black nightgownfrom the soundtrack of black hollywood movie,‘I want to live’ (Mulligan played baritone on the soundtrack recording). The brilliance of the brass section, each member a virtuoso, elicits enthusiastic Danish applause. Then the atmosphere softens for the exquisite of Django Reinhardt Manor of my dreams, a strong contender for the dreamiest jazz song ever composed. On succulent organ chords, Mulligan reveals his emotions with elegance without ever resorting to sentimentality.
Tribute is paid to one of Mulligan’s greatest heroes, Johnny (Rabbit) Hodges, alto sax superstar of The Ellington Band, with the furiously fast 18 rabbit carrotsarranged by Bill Holman and featuring an outstanding (and elusive) viola player Gene Quill and the equally stunning reed section.
Latin inspired by Johnny Mandel Barbara’s Theme is the album’s second visit to ‘I want to live’ soundtrack of the film, this time with the trumpet of Don Ferrara and big band drumming skills Mel Lewis (who would later co-lead his own groundbreaking orchestra with trumpeter Thad Jones).
The next two pieces present two facets of Zoot Sims, master tenor saxophonist. Bill Holman arranged Mulligan’s composition Apple Core (a contract of love me or leave me) at a ferocious tempo, perfectly suited to The Sims tear-off mode, immediately followed by Mulligan’s luscious tableau of the ballad of Arlen and Mercer, Rain or shineoffering a glimpse into the more sensitive side of The Sims.
In addition to appearing in the film “Anatomy of a Murder” as a roadhouse pianist, Duke Ellington also wrote the unorthodox 6/8 theme of I’m going to go fishing as part of the soundtrack (sometime later singer Peggy Lee added the lyrics). Trumpet Tale CandoliZoot Sims and Mulligan take turns weaving intricate solos around Brookmeyer’s delicate time signature and singsong arrangement.
At track 9, the recording switches to West Berlin, which in 1960 is a beleaguered island surrounded by a hostile Soviet sea. But neither the harsh geopolitics nor the excessive reverberation of the auditorium faze this enthusiastic group. Brookmeyer and Mulligan solo on Brookmeyer’s beautiful arrangement of Rogers and Hart You took advantage of me demonstrating a relaxed swing and relaxed momentum before a sudden, surprising stop. Mulligan’s First Chorus Bweedia Bobbida provides a nostalgic callback to the original Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker. Johnny Green’s Body and soularranged by Brookmeyer, leaves Brookmeyer and Mulligan plenty of room to contemplate the venerable ballad against opulent, yet sympathetic, band backing.
Additional versions of I’m going to go fishing and 18 rabbit carrots recorded in Berlin offer listeners unusual opportunities to contrast, compare and marvel at the musical creativity of the soloists. Plus, listeners can look forward to some extra help from talented, much-neglected alto player Gene Quill, once the recording partner of alto player Phil Woods (“Phil and Quill”).
So if you crave boundless virtuosity and brilliant arrangements, all bristling with the high tension of live performance, this is your album. And a big thank you to Nils Winther who restored the tapes with so much love and care.
LIST OF TRACKS: total chaos; black nightgown; Manor of my dreams; 18 carrots for rabbit (version-1); Barbara’s Theme; Apple Core; Rain or shine; I go fishing (version-1); You took advantage of me; Bweedia Bobbida; Body and soul; 18 carrots for rabbit (version-2); I’m going fishing (version-2).
PERSONAL: Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophone and piano; Don Ferrara, Conte Candoli, Nick Travis, trumpets; Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombone, Willie Dennis, Alan Raph, trombones; Gene Quill, clarinet and alto saxophone, Bob Donovan, alto saxophone, Jimmy Reider, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophones, Gene Allen, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Buddy Clarke, bass, Mel Lewis, drums. Tracks 1-8 recorded at Tivoli’s Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark, October 31, 1960. Tracks 9-13 recorded in West Berlin, Germany, November 4, 1960.
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