Fetishizing the LP

Verve Miniaturizes 20 Old Albums

The Torme leads to a second division: three albums recorded in the '60s, part of Verve's good-neighbor policy. Astrud Gilberto's The Shadow of Your Smile is whispery mood music, heavily arranged to exploit her "yearning innocence"—25 minutes' worth. She is best with just guitar on a pleasing "Manha de Carnaval." According to the The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, she has "an economy of melodic line and a steady momentum akin to that of Basie, but its rhythmic drive is often devoid of contours." Got that? The title of Willie Bobo's A New Dimension refers to his singing, which is nondescript, but his fixed dance rhythms pack a punch (Freddie Waits on traps), and so do his soloists. Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's Equinox is beyond the concerns, ken, and pale of this page.

As a bridge from bossa to boss instrumentals, Oscar Peterson's Soul Español, a 1966 Limelight, is overly familiar but effective. Adding three percussionists to his trio (Sam Jones, Louis Hayes), he spins each piece with rolling, hustling minor thirds and tremolos, mining romance from "How Insensitive" and "Meditation," and gusto from "Carioca" and "Mas Que Nada," which swing too hard to resist. Stan Getz and the Cool Sounds implies that he's playing with one of those '50s lounge trios, but no, the title is generic, and so he balladeers with great rhythm sections (Lou Levy, Jimmy Rowles, Max Roach, a spot of Tony Fruscella's trumpet) in peak form. Paul Desmond does his hat trick, entering with peculiar notes on "These Foolish Things" and "Star Dust," on 1975: The Duets, but Dave Brubeck plods (he's stronger without Desmond, on "Summer Song"), and the absence of a rhythm section is no help. Willow Weep for Me, the posthumous Wes Montgomery album for which Claus Ogerman overdubbed orchestrations, should never have seen the light of day. This reissue is mind-boggling, especially since the type is so small that unsuspecting consumers are likely only to note the quartet. Montgomery's brilliant performances can be heard as intended, when he and Wynton Kelly recorded them live at the Half Note, on Impressions: The Verve Jazz Sides. If you see Willow Weep for Me in a store, it is perfectly legal to stomp on it or set it afire.

I have little space for the two remaining categories: big band classics and kitsch. Don't miss Woody Herman 1963, one of his all-time great ones, arranged almost entirely by members of the band, which helps explain the very cool choice of material—pieces by Horace Parlan, Horace Silver, Joe Newman, and Duke Ellington. The concerto for tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico, "Sister Sadie," is a high, but there are no lows—Jake Hanna's drumming is almost unbelievably on point throughout, and dig Woody's klezmer sound on "It's a Lonesome Old Town." The hot spots on Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band at the Village Vanguard are the Al Cohn charts on "Blueport" and "Lady Chatterly's Mother," and I hope this reissue won't hinder Verve's long-promised complete Concert Jazz Band. Count Basie's King of Swing, from 1953 to '54, is motored by drummer Gus Johnson, and features the leanest riffing machine in jazz, with rocking blues arrangements and superb solos; Frank Wess kills on Freddie Greene's "Right On," and goes toe-to-toe with Frank Foster on Neal Hefti's "Two for the Blues." Dizzy Gillespie's Afro, from 1954, restores a major achievement that led to the rebirth of his orchestra. Chico O'Farrill's title suite is a deconstruction of "Manteca"—first the piece itself, then elaborations on the bridge ("Contraste"), the key rhythmic figure ("Jungla"), and the vamps ("Rhumba-Finale"). Dizzy's playing is blindingly radiant.

Décolletage on Decca
image: Courtesy Verve Music Group
Décolletage on Decca

Kitsch: Stan Kenton, The Formative Years, which includes "Concerto for Doghouse" with vocal by Howard Rumsey, sounding disconcertingly like Tex Avery's Droopy; and Alice Coltrane, Universal Consciousness, which isn't as bad as it sounds if you've achieved nirvana or a reasonable state of inebriation.

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