Benny Golson, arranger: Just Jazz! (1962) Audio Fidelity

A new occasional theme from LJC, records that are interesting. Not that are necessarily rare, or musically outstanding, not collector trophies (don’t worry, there will be more of those in future ) but records that are interesting, if not entirely successful. The thing with interesting records is they teach you a few lessons, inexpensively, give you some benchmarks to appreciate what other really good records are about. They must also be at least partially successful, not to be dismissed because not wholly successful.

This one popped up on the radar while I was wrestling with filing by artist name: who to file it under? So many names. It also picks up on the recent run of posts about arrangers which started with George Russell. This time a quite different arranging pitch: Benny Golson.

Selection 1: If I Should Lose You (Ranger, Robin)

. . .

Bill Hardman (trumpet) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) Eric Dolphy (alto sax) Bill Evans (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Charlie Persip (drums) Benny Golson (arranger, conductor) recorded  NYC, April, 1962 engineer William Hamilton

Selection 2: Walkin’ (Miles Davis)

 

. . .

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Curtis Fuller (trombone) Wayne Shorter (tenor sax) Bill Evans (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Jimmy Cobb (drums) Benny Golson (arranger, conductor) recorded NYC, April, 1962 engineer William Hamilton

Music

When I first encountered this record, in 2011, my eyes popped out on stalks. Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers … all the young lions out to play.  Couldn’t see Benny Golson listed , because he doesn’t play, he conducts and arranges. Golson was a fine driving tenor in the Art Blakey line up, his work in Blakey’s Moanin‘ is outstanding, as with The Jazztet, and his long list of compositions includes many distinctive memorable tunes (Whisper Not, Killer Joe, Stablemates) . How could it fail?

Whereas George Russell took great risks with tunes, turned them inside out, re-arranged them, Golson is determinedly mainstream, no nod in the direction of third stream or avant garde.  The tunes are all from the jazz classic playbook. The arrangements are to my untutored ear stiff,  dense, even schmaltzy, layed on the tunes thickly like with a trowel. From the artist roster and their individual playing styles  I wouldn’t have pitched this recording as late as 1962, it feels much much  earlier, I’d guess 1958, but the claim 1962 remains. What Golson showed me, unintentionally,  was how great George Russell is.

Ken Dryden of All Music Guide  picks up some interesting history of the record

After the small-group sessions were taped (not all of the musicians are on every track), an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings, playing the chord changes of the pieces on which each of the jazz compositions was based. That LP  released as “Pop + Jazz = Swing” on the Audio Fidelity label, was evidently a total flop.  Some time following Eric Dolphy’s death in 1964, the original masters, minus the overdubbed pop orchestra, were released as Just Jazz!

 

The net result is an object lesson. With no group leader, it doesn’t matter how much talent you gather in a studio, it’s hard to imagine a more talented group of jazz musicians than this, and the song selection outstanding, an arranger can still suffocate it with the wrong vision, pointing in the wrong direction. If the vision was to create Pop+Jazz=Swing, with orchestral overdubs, Golson’s finger was not on the modern jazz pulse of 1962, not The Space Age.

Bill Evans doesn’t shine as he did with Russell’s arrangements, Shorter is restrained, not the bombastic sour tone we came to know through Blue Note, even great tunes like Autumn Leaves (think Adderley’s spine-tingling also solo on “Something Else”)becomes stiff and formulaic, strangled by over-arranging, falling in love with the process of arranging instead of bringing out a bigger new vision of the tune.  On the positive side Fuller and Moncur romp infectiously,  and Dolphy is irrepressible as always, worth the price of admission alone.

Vinyl: Audio Fidelity AFLP 2150 (mono)

Though Audio Fidelity claim credit for the first issue of Stereo High Fidelity  record in November 1957, Golson’s Discography credits this recording date as April 1962. Ironically the copy of Just Jazz! I acquired was mono. It is however, deep groove, as if that matters.

It is the only Audio Fidelity I own, so I assume this was not a very successful enterprise. The small print on the back cover makes great play of the “inaudible” highest frequencies around 25,000 CPS, whatever that means, though I can guess.  It is a very odd bit of engineering, congested midband but yes, high frequency cymbal-work. floating on the top. May be this is what a 1960’s radiogram required to impress,  who am I to judge.

Collector’s Corner

Purchased for under £10 in 2011, I had a very different idea of what to expect at the time, given the artist roster and apparent audiophile credentials. Wiser counsel today, much learning en route, put it all in context.

Why now? Filing! Having 1800 records in cabinets, filed by artist surname and album title I had several hundred recently played or acquired records littering the floor. Mrs LJC read the riot act. Deplorable-me hates returning records to the filing system after play. Lazy, but it has to be done, if sometimes, in bulk. I hadn’t played this for a few years, for reasons this post should make obvious.

I couldn’t decide whether to re- file it under Golson (he doesn’t play) or Various Artists, with the compilations. Discovering huge similarities with the artist roster assembled by George Russell, I thought to pop it on the turntable.  A very interesting experience followed. Not necessarily very good, but certainly very  interesting. Some days, interesting is the best you get. At least you get off the treadmill of chasing The Latest!

My flirtation with arrangers took a step back.  I’ll return with more adventures, including a very interesting and expensive Blue Note. But that’s for another day. If you have found some records that meet the criteria of “interesting” (if not wholly successful)  feel free to add your own experiences.

 

LJC

 

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12 thoughts on “Benny Golson, arranger: Just Jazz! (1962) Audio Fidelity

  1. A nice “Golson as arranger” record is Stockholm Sojourn on Prestige. Great tonal colors in all the arrangements and a nice combination of virtuoso American expats and Scandinavians

  2. so they spelled two artist names wrong and wrongly placed hardman as a trombone player on the back. i’m sure the label failed because they locked themselves out of their offices, with that level of attention to detail, or lack thereof.

    i rather enjoy these types of records, i must admit.

    • also, i would file this with golson, as i file my russell records under russell, even when he doesn’t play. his name was the first from top left, as reading a book, anyhow.

  3. Andrew, the Goldmine Price Guide to Jazz always had this listed under Benny Golson and since my Golson section is underwhelming I filed it there to beef it up.
    One of the main reasons you haven’t paid attention to the Audio Fidelity label is that it’s almost all Dixieland and Pop sessions. The only other descent AF title I have is the Ted Curson & Bill Barron lp – Now Hear This!

  4. “Interesting” but not necessarily good LPs you say? The Horace Silver “United States of Mind” trilogy fits that bill.

  5. while Eric Dolphy has always been in my Olympus, I’ve never liked this record: there’s nothing, from any player, that hit me in any way. one of the very very few Dolphy recordings I won’t add to my collection.

  6. I’ll add to the mix Benny Golson’s “Take a Number from 1 to 10” on Argo. Very interesting concept and stellar group of musicians. For those unfamiliar, the first track (out of 10) is Benny on tenor, unaccompanied, and adds a musician with each track, expanding by the end to a full ten-tet. It definitely has its moments, although I haven’t listened to my copy in quite a while

  7. By adjusting the stereo controls you could listen to a Pop version on the left, aJazz version on the right and the middle was a combination of both! Also the Pop selection was the basis for the jazz version. This was no George Russelll but it most definitely is Space Age! Also it was advertised as 3 albums for the price of 1! It is filed in my Jazz section along with the rest of Benny Golson.

    • While I have no reason to doubt Ken Dryden’s statement that “an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings”, it might have been the other way round, as you are obviously suggesting.

      So, since the jazz performance had to fit in precisely with the pop track (left channel of the original record), the musicians may have been anxious to avoid getting in the way of the original music. No little achievement to blow a decent jazz chorus while listening to that bland stuff on your headphones. Just a thought.

      In any case: A bad idea, poorly executed.

      • A point that I failed to mention earlier; the “pop” sides were songs which contained the chord changes that the jazz songs were structured upon. For this reason alone, the album is a teachable piece of music. The musician gets to hear the evolution of a Jazz composition. A overwhelming number of Be Bop songs were based on “Standards”

        • Of course, of course. The aim might have been to address the interests of music teachers, jazz lovers, and the general audience at the same time. However, none of those seem to have cared much.

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