UPDATE Jan.5: Johnny Griffin at Ronnie Scotts, 1969 Harry M photo added.
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Johnny Griffin, tenor sax; Sonny Clark, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Kenny Dennis, drums.; recorded Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, October 23, 1957 Warhol cover alert!
Selection, Latin Quarter, not The Congregation, LJC? That tune is just too chirpy upbeat for me. Latin Quarter gives Johnny a better chance to show off supremely fast articulation, generally regarded as the fastest saxophonist of them all. The Paul Chambers solo is a bit of self-indulgence. You buy this record, first, for the Warhol cover, then Griffin’s roller-coaster solos, and then, Sonny Clark. If you like the tunes, it is a bonus.
The Congregation shows its 1957 roots, Griffin’s third title for Blue Note, it consists of main-stream bop, bright happy tunes, Griffin’s rapid-fire tenor solos, and bubbly Sonny Clark, echoes of Red Garland and Bud Powell, bluesy influences, a swinging right hand, and a seamless flow of ideas.
Listening to Sonny here reminded me how pianist’s hands function independently. Left hand comping, chopping accents, laying down harmonic progressions, the right hand exploring the melodic opportunities, fills, runs, grace-notes. Instead of simply experiencing the final musical product, deconstruct what is happening, the contribution of each player, a discipline described by some as “active listening”. You don’t need to do this, but it adds an extra layer of enjoyment. Some people happy to just drive a car, others like to look under the bonnet. Surprising how young Sonny delivered this in between serving his ultimately lethal addiction.
Griffin is high on speed, though speed is only part of Griffin’s armoury, used to good effect and applied when necessary, varied with tempo and context. Charlie Parker deployed it best, dazzling virtuosity at breathtaking speed. Griffin gives you a taste of the same heady mix, a flow of ideas, not a Bumblebee with a speeding ticket.
Vinyl: BLP 1580 Division Of United Artists
No engineer’s initials in the run-out, but an etched UA on one side, and a job code #76, how UA kept track of the reissue programme. SIDE 2 boasts probably the narrowest run-out I have seen, yet the plucky engineer still managed to etch the catalogue number in it.
Division Of United Artists replica series has always been an enigma, an “undocumented series”, absent from the 900-page authoritative and definitive Cuscuna and Ruppli “History of the Blue Note Label” .
The classic Blue and White label with “Division of United Artists” text is fashioned after the “Division Of Liberty” text, which links it to the period of Liberty/ UA transition 1970-2 . Around 90% of the fifty or so titles in this series are mono, at a time when stereo was the established format of choice. Suspicious cat thinks this choice designed to appeal to the purist jazz-afficionado market in Japan, for whom I think this series was intended, (though it never got there)
The label capitalized “SIDE 1” tells us it is a Bert-Co, Hollywood printed label. Bert-Co’s Linotype line-casting machines were primed with cartridges from the Linotype Spartan family, but I think their font-library stocked only capitals in this point-size, hence TITLE, ARTIST and SIDE appear only in capitals. (Took me a long time to figure this out!)
Pressed on the West Coast, Div UA replica series are good, but missing the freshness of originals mastered directly from original tapes. A few years earlier, Liberty reissue manufacturing had been split between East and West Coast editions. East Coast enjoyed access to original Van Gelder metal, West Coast relied on copy tape sources to re-master. Most likely Div-UA replicas were re-mastered from copy tape. Even by 1972, original tapes from 1957 must have been considered too precious to ship coast to coast, when a copy tape was simple industry practice for distribution.
Back then, who knows who had what as a source. Over the last three to four decades, original Van Gelder tapes have passed through various hands, available today for audiophile mastering. This replica series sound like worthy second generation analog copies, somewhere between rock-solid original pressing and modern sculpted re-engineering.
The attraction of Warhol covers add significantly to the cost of these Blue Note albums
The art-collector premium is an irritation, as I am interested in only the music, though the manufacturing quality of the Div UA cover is good enough for anyone in search of an “authentic” Warhol album cover to put on the wall. If fruit is more your thing, you could always bid on . . .
Collector’s Corner: Late 1950s, Popular Taste In Jazz
Checking the release date of The Congregation in Billboard, I encountered this reminder of “popular tastes” in jazz in 1958. I recall seeing these titles many times in record store racks, priced in small change, sought by very few today.
Interestingly, the jazz LP market was dominated by Columbia, with four of the ten best sellers. Contemporary Records struck lucky with My Fair Lady show tunes. Ellington at Newport is one of the few bright lights, but of the rest, two Erroll Garner LPs, Ella & Louis, Brubeck, two Dixieland titles, George Shearing, and Lawrence Welk, Best selling jazz albums. Oh dear…
At this time Blue Note was releasing real jazz, selling often just a few thousand records, compared with hundreds of thousands of these. Seventy years later it is not “popular taste” that stood the test of time, it is the unpopular taste.
Popsike: Congregation – top twenty auctions
I knew there was a reason I bought the United Artists replica. The original not in truly trophy territory, but still maxes up to $2,000. The auction headline always tells the story – “Warhol cover, feat. Sonny Clark”.
Always keep an eye out for this Division of United Artists replica series. In the absence of affordable “originals”, I was told recently by a dealer, these are now becoming an increasingly scarce item. More on the Division of United Artists replica series continues here with a gallery of other titles.
UPDATE January 5, 2021: Harry M photo –
I see Ronnie Scott himself seated on Johnny’s left. And is that Sahib Shihab with the beard?