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
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.
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.