Concord’s Jazzapalooza 2011, Part One

They’re having a veritable jazzapalooza over at Concord Music Group, and we’re all invited. I try, but I can’t keep up with the amazing rush of quality reissues from the label that’s fast becoming the go-to source for thoughtful, well-put-together archival reissues.

In March 2011, Concord released four reissues; at the time I managed to review my favorite of the bunch, Sextet from Cal Tjader and Stan Getz. But another title from that bunch is equally amazing: Art Blakey’s Jazz MessengersUgetsu, recorded live at Birdland in June 1963.

When originally released, that record offered up six tracks of incendiary, as-it-happened jazz. The reissue adds four more tracks — nearly twenty more minutes of music – from the same performance. For that alone it’s worth adding to one’s collection. But even in its original form, the show itself is pretty amazing. You don’t need to be a jazz aficionado (good, because I’m not) to know by listening that the drummer was the leader of this six-piece outfit. Blakey is way out front in the swinging mix — crystal-clear as always, thanks to the redoubtable work of producer Orrin Keepnews – and that’s how it should be.

The other two March reissues are of no less historical import. Thelonious Monk’s 1957 release Monk’s Music features a septet that includes Blakey as well as tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. The brief opening “Abide With Me” sounds like nothing else on the album, but it’s a stunning piece of grace and beauty. After that, things get way into the swing. The compact brass section (Coltrane and Hawkins plus Ray Copeland on trumpet and Gigi Gryce on alto sax) blows in a big way, while Blakey and bassist Wilbur Ware hold down the rhythm. Everybody takes solos, of course — this is jazz — but it’s clearly Monk’s show. Occasional shouted cues only add to the excitement. Long tracks (two on the original album run around eleven minutes each) never fail to hold interest. Three bonus tracks add twenty-plus minutes of music that’s every bit the equal of the core tracks. Of those bonuses, in addition to a pair of alternate takes, there’s a thirteen-plus minute “Blues for Tomorrow” cut around the same time but not featuring Monk at all. It’s still cool.

The energy is of a decidedly different sort on Ella and Oscar, featuring Ella Fitzgerald on vocals and Oscar Peterson on piano (plus bassist Ray Brown on a few tracks. Peterson’s deft and expressive playing is delightful on its own; having the effortlessly perfect voice of Ella Fitzgerald makes it even better. Unlike the other discs mentioned, this one has four bonus tracks, none of which has seen previous release. On “Mean to Me” Peterson mines a ragtime/barrelhouse style, but that’s merely one of many tricks in his musical bag. The album is a veritable sampler of the range of both of these important artists. Norman Granz’s production is worthy of mention: turn it up on a decent stereo and close your eyes: Ella and Oscar are there with you.

But here’s what I mean about not being able to keep up: if those four March reissues weren’t enough, a mere ninety days later Concord rolled out six more. We’ll take a look at those next time.

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