Selection: The Quota (J Heath)
Jimmy Heath (tenor, soprano sax) Red Garland (piano) Peck Morrison (bass) Lenny McBrowne (drums) recorded at RCA Studios, NYC, May 3, 1971, produced by Don Schlitten for MPS/BASF.
Garland here at age 48, a decade-long absence, his last previous recording was in 1962. He returned to the studio in 1971 to record two albums for the German MPS/BASF label, “The Quota”, and Auf Wiedersehen, produced by entrepreneurial Cobblestone/ Muse/ Xanadu producer Don Schlitten.
Schlitten seems to have briefly gone total lederhosen, recording these icons from the Bop era in the US, but for a German chemical company owned label, MPS. More Black Forest gateau anyone? Schlitten is the German word for sled or sledge. So, Don Sledge. Germanic roots? Why is the title “The Quota” between inverted commas? Is it a thinly-concealed pun on “quotation marks”, like a quote? And why so many questions?
Artist of note: William McKinley Garland, Jr. – “Red Garland”
At the age of nineteen, would be boxer William “Red” Garland went eight rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson. Garland lost so badly (he modestly claimed he did hit Robinson “once or twice“), the young fighter from Dallas gave up his dream of becoming a welterweight champion and returned to his other passion: playing the piano. A win win for us. A decade later Garland’s interest in boxing gave him something in common with a young trumpet player, looking for a pianist: Miles Davis. Davis reportedly asked Philly Joe to find him someone like Ahmad Jamal. Instead Jones found him Garland.
Garland joined Miles Davis’s first quintet, and was the driving rhythmic force on many Davis Prestige recordings, including the “missin’ G” series: (Cookin’ , Relaxin’ , Workin’ and Steamin’ following which Miles fired him on account of his errant attendance record. It was Red swinging away behind the piano on the marvellous 1957 Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section for Contemporary. (If you had asked me, I would have guessed Wynton Kelly, wrongly, but then guessing was never my strong suit, or pianistic nuance)
Garland then formed his own trio, changing membership over time, but significantly became Coltrane’s principal pianist, through to the time Coltrane jumped ship to Impulse, Jimmy Heath briefly replacing Coltrane in the quintet, if my memory serves me well (LJC Fact-checker is on extended sick leave, cut me some slack)
After recording prodigiously for Prestige up until in 1962, he effectively “vanished”. His reappearance here on two albums for Schlitten/ MPS in the early 70’s marked a nearly ten year absence. Those of you old enough to remember, ten years is a helluva long time. “The Quota”, and a more Germanic-sounding Auf Weidersein, which means, more or less ” Until we meet again, cheers, I’m off”. And true to his word, he was off.
A handful of recordings later in the ’70s marked a belated comeback, and his last date was in 1983, at age 60, when the final curtain fell on an glittering early career that seemingly evaporated. Fickle public taste is of course of little concern to those of us with analog vinyl time-machines, Red sounding fresh as today. No, fresher!
Garland’s grip is intense, no diminution with time, if anything he has more attack. His music is forceful and determinedly mainstream, All the bop alumni here have deep immersion in the music. Lenny McBrowne is a familiar name from some early Riverside recordings, Jimmy Heath a regular, as is Peck Morrison. Schlitten is the hidden hand, the Svengali assembling the line up from talented musicians perhaps treading water against the shifting tide of popular taste.
For the technically minded, Garland has a distinctive block chord voicing:
constructed of three notes in the right hand and four in the left hand, with the right hand one octave above the left. Garland’s left hand played four-note chords that simultaneously beat out the same exact rhythm as the right-hand melody played. (Wiki)
Knowing how it’s done doesn’t help me appreciate what he does, which I do simply by listening. He has a crystalline attack, serving up thick chords and blistering runs, rhythmic precision, a mastery of his own voice and direction. He sounds better to me here, without the frontline “distraction” of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. (Yes, I’ll go wash my mouth out)
The other player that interested me in parting with some cash was Jimmy Heath, a great tenor player and he more than gives of his best here, muscular, charging fast and fiery, sort of an American Tubby Hayes , if I’m allowed to say that.
Vinyl: MPS/BASF (G) 21 20909-1
There doesn’t seem to have been a US vinyl release of The Quota, and the liner notes are entirely in German, so tell us it was not intended for international distribution. Why Germany and not one of Schlitten’s native US labels? Being recorded in 1971, the session is just on the outer margins of the golden era of modern jazz, and predates digital incursion. Sounds great to me.
I had never seen this album before. It turned up by chance among a stash of Japanese pressings sold to a record store by a music journalist who received them all in the ’70s in his capacity as a music magazine reviewer at the time. Most were previously virtually un-played, yet inexplicably, very dusty. I can only guess the reviewer, being a hip dude, would take records out of their sleeve and leave them casually lying around, but was entirely unfamiliar with the workings of a domestic vacuum cleaner.
I thought an English language set of liner notes might provide more background as to what brought Garland back to the studio after a decade’s absence, and why a German release. Snooping around Discogs I thought I had cracked it with a reissue on Crystal Jazz – sounded promising, but no.
The label Crystal was a jazz reissue label dating from the 80s, specialising in records originally issued by SABA and MPS. Full circle, German liner notes.
I found a Japanese CD with a brief description