CD Reviews, DVDs & Snyder In Academia

Reissuing important music in impeccably produced editions, Mosaic Records continues to thrive. Its most recent box set is The Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings. I just finished a long review of the album for Jazz Times. Watch for it in the September 35th anniversary issue.
Another recent Mosaic gem is The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer, Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions. Farmer and Golson were in the thick of the hard bop movement of the 1950s and early sixties. Together, they transcended hard bop’s orthodoxies, Farmer with his incomparable melodic inventions on trumpet and flugelhorn, Golson as a writer of memorable tunes and pungent arrangements and as a lusty tenor saxophonist under the spell of Don Byas and Lucky Thompson. They reached what Gene Lees described in Down Beat in 1960 as “a balanced amalgam of formal written structure and free blowing — the long-sought Grail of jazz.” That balance is responsible for the music’s sounding fresh more than forty years later, along with remarkably undated playing by the leaders and their changing cast of sidemen.
The pianists were McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Harold Mabern; the bassists Addison Farmer, Herbie Lewis and Tommy Williams; the trombonists Curtis Fuller, Tom McIntosh and Grachan Moncur III; the drummers Lex Humphries, Tootie Heath and Roy McCurdy. The seven CDs in the Mosaic box encompass everything the Jazztet recorded in its 1960-’62 incarnation (Farmer and Golson reassembled the band briefly in the 1980s), as well as individual dates by the leaders. They include four of the best quartet albums of the decade, Golson’s Free and Turning Point and Farmer’s Art and Perception. Both of Farmer’s and one of Golson’s quartet dates have Tommy Flanagan, the other Golson has Wynton Kelly, two of the most influential pianists in modern jazz. The box also contains Listen To Art Farmer And The Orchestra with Oliver Nelson’s arrangements, and Golson’s clever Take A Number From 1 To 10, in which he starts alone and adds one instrument per track until he has a tentet. In the twenty-page booklet, Bob Blumenthal contributes a deeply researched essay and track-by-track analysis.
With the Farmer/Golson bonanza coming on the heels of its monumental Complete Columbia Recordings Of Woody Herman And His Orchestra & Woodchoppers 1945-1947, Mosaic is having a good run. As usual. The label’s Mosaic Select series of smaller boxes brings together in three CDs five Bob Brookmeyer albums from the fifties. It includes two rarities, Brookmeyer’s ten-inch 1954 Pacific Jazz quartet album with John Williams, Red Mitchell and Frank Isola, and The Street Swingers with guitarists Jim Hall and Jimmy Raney, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Osie Johnson. Mint copies of The Street Swingers LP have gone to Japanese collectors for hundreds of dollars. It’s good of Mosaic to rescue it from the archives for listeners of more modest means.
Brookmeyer long since passed safely through what he has called his “music to make your teeth hurt” period. For an idea of what he is up to these days, I recommend his Waltzing With Zoe for writing in a league that he and Bill Holman, among contemporary arranger-composers, occupy alone. Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely are stars of the farm club.
For Brookmeyer’s small group work on valve trombone, try Island, a challenging collaboration with Kenny Wheeler, possibly the most surprising trumpet soloist alive. John Snyder has revived his Artists House as a nonprofit organization and taken it into leading-edge multi-media production and education. Artists House includes in The Island package not only the CD but also a DVD with scenes of the recording session, interviews with the musicians and printable scores. To find Island on the Artists House website, click on “Contact” on the right side of the screen.
Snyder just completed his first academic season as Conrad Hilton Eminent Scholar and Director of Music Industry Studies at Loyola University in New Orleans. In case those Artists House and teaching involvements don’t keep him busy enough, he has also taken on stewardship of a series of musicians’ master classes at New York University. The Artists House web site presents streaming video of classes conducted by Benny Golson, Cecil Taylor, Percy and Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris and Clark Terry. The only one I’ve seen all the way through is Taylor’s. His question and answer session with NYU students is, like his music and his life, intriguing performance art.

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