Concord’s Jazzapalooza 2011, Part Two

Continued from Part One.

In June 2011 Concord Music Group added six more reissued jazz titles to their already vast catalog. Each features the original album (in 24-bit remastering) with the original artwork and liner notes. But each is appended with contemporary liner notes that help place the recordings in their proper historical and musical context. Lots of cool photos are included in the booklets, and all but one features at least one bonus track.

I’ve already covered the Cannonball Adderley / Bill Evans set Know What I Mean? in a separate review of its own. Another album featuring Evans is part of this latest crop of reissues. Bill Evans Trio’s 1961 album Explorations is one of the handful of studio recordings – the last, in fact — made by Evans’ first trio, the outfit featuring the transcendent work of drummer Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro. Rather than featuring original compositions, Explorations centers on giving the Trio’s reading of standards and works of their contemporaries, including Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” a personal favorite of Evans’. Four bonus tracks — two previously unreleased – up the ante.

A relatively modern recording, the 1986 album Easy Living from Ella Fitzgerald and acoustic guitarist Joe Pass also gets the Concord reissue treatment. A spare, intimate affair, Easy Living juxtaposes Pass’ gentle, precise fretwork with Ella’s expressive vocal. With nothing left to prove, both musicians are relaxed here. Still, with Fitzgerald’s intentionally varied volume, this is not background music; though it’s not a high-energy session, neither is it easily ignored. Perhaps more for fans of this particular style of laid-back (if expert) vocal jazz, Easy Living does include a pair of alternate-take bonus tracks.

The 1959 album Thelonious Alone in San Francisco is exactly as the title describes. Thelonoius Monk is seated at a piano in S.F.’s Fugazi Hall, where he runs through a set made up mostly of his own compositions. For anyone who’s ever been told that Monk’s not accessible, one listen to “Blue Monk” should set them straight. (It’s a safe bet that composer Mel Leven heard “Blue Monk” prior to writing the music for his 1961 “Cruella DeVil” from the Disney film 101 Dalmations.) Not all of the tracks are mellifluous: like many of the selections, “Ruby, My Dear” features some intentionally dissonant work from the master. But those dissonant runs are more often than not couched within melodious context; the overall effect is challenging, but worth the effort to follow. Monk can clearly be heard muttering to himself throughout the session; it’s an endearing quirk that only adds to the immediacy of the work.

Ornette Coleman’s Something Else!!!! from 1958 is a blowing, high energy session. Trumpeter Don Cherry is among Coleman’s cohorts on this nine-track reissue (with no bonus tracks, presumably because none exist). This is Coleman’s first-ever album, but clearly sounds like the work of a well-established artist. Though classified as free jazz, Something Else!!!! sounds less jarring to the ears now than it likely would have fifty-plus years ago. But the energy of a young, hungry artist comes through.

Awhile back Concord reissued a 1958 album called (Chet Baker Sings) It Could Happen to You. At that point unfamiliar with Chet Baker’s work, I approached it as primarily the work of a vocalist. Simply put, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy his (from my point of view) effeminate vocal styling, so I passed on reviewing it. Luckily for me, when Chet Baker in New York landed on my desk, I checked it out. Released the same year as It Could Happen to You, this album couldn’t be more different. In fact it swings, in places. Thanks in no small part to the ace drumming of Philly Joe Jones, the album – six longish tracks plus a bonus on this reissue – is a winner. In New York is arguably at its best when Baker is joined (on half the tracks) by tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin; the high point of these is “Hotel 49.” Paul Chambers’ sawing bass solo is jaw-dropping. On the remaining tracks, romantic mood jazz is more the order of business.

Jazz enthusiasts will want most or all of these Concord reissues for the stellar remastering, bonus tracks, and new liner notes. Those new to jazz would do well to choose any of them (based on one’s openness to a particular style of jazz) and explore from there. A newbie could do far worse than be schooled in modern jazz by keeping up with Concord.

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