Selection: Besame Mucho
Kenny Dorham (tp) Barney Wilen (ts) Duke Jordan (p) Gilbert Rovere (b) Daniel Humair (d) recorded Paris, France, April 24 & 25, 1959
Escaping briefly from the tormented souls of the Sixties New York avant gard scene, it is now safe to put the turntable on and soothe the ears. An elite front line of Dorham and Wilen with Duke Jordan, supported by the best of Paris’s sidemen, recorded live at the Club Saint-Germain, Paris. Wilen’s fluid and melodic swing is a delight, having found for himself a distinctive voice, perhaps tenor saxophone with a French accent.
Barney was recorded in Paris around the same time as the film score – Un Temoin Dans La Ville – translation: A Witness in the Town – a film noir on the theme of murder, vengeance, and taxis. Three months later, Wilen recorded in New York, with Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, the film sound track to Les Liaisons Dangereuses – a morality tale of seduction, revenge and human malice. The year previously Miles Davis recorded the soundtrack with Wilen for Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud – Lift to the Scaffold – a story of love and betrayal, murder, and fate – . A great time for black and white French art-house flicks about enduring human themes, with cool American jazz scores. Compare and contrast today’s summer blockbusters – futuristic dystopias and planetary calamity. As people’s lives become ever more comfortable, the demand for epic-scale disaster seems to rise, viewed of course from a safe distance: faux-jeopardy.
Vinyl: RCA Japan mono reissue (1981) of 430.053
The French original is impossibly rare and expensive. Not that the Japanese is that easy to come by either. Pressings of this provenance are in the fortunate position where the technology of vinyl production in Japan was well advanced and not degraded by , and original tapes are not yet effectively deteriorated. The result is sweet.
Source: West London record store
Barney Willen’s cult status is no doubt helped by the great rarity of his original releases. Original copies must rank among the most collectible records in jazz, with prices nudging the stratospheric level of the most desirable Blue Notes. His Gilde du Jazz tops at nearly $3,000, and the more modest “Barney” nearly half that.
This price tier effectively rules me out of the chase for originals, which I am quite content to leave to heavyweight collectors. Whilst the CDs are not bad, Japanese vintage vinyl no doubt has the sonic edge, so cheapskates can come up smiling.
In the two decades which followed Barney, Wilen flirted with European free jazz, jazz rock, Indian and African music, only to return to his bebop roots in his final years. Though his later records still carry a collector premium, it is his early recordings that remain the most sought after.