Album Review: Sonny Stitt – Boppin’ in Baltimore

Zev Feldman and Cory Weeds truly are jazz detectives. Together or on their own, these two men are responsible for bringing treasure troves of previously unheard jazz recordings to the wider public. Their intrepid sleuthing – involving world travel and fair, up-front dealing with the stakeholders – has yielded some truly amazing, high fidelity archival additions to the bodies of work of giants of the jazz world. Titles from Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and others are now yours to enjoy.

They’ve released these recordings on a variety of custom labels – Reel to Real, Resonance, etc. – and now there’s another: the aptly-named Jazz Detective. The latest from that imprint is a stellar 2CD set featuring hard bop saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Boppin’ in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank sounds as if it were recorded live just yesterday, but with all the fire and passion of a classic hard bop date from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s.

In fact it’s from neither yesterday nor sixty-plus years ago: the stereo recording comes from a November 11, 1973 gig. And what a gig it is! Stitt is joined by whom Feldman’s liner note essay rightly calls “three greats in their own right,” Kenny Barron (piano), Sam Jones (upright bass) and drummer Louis Hayes.

A successor to Charlie Parker, Stitt made plenty of recordings as a band leader, releasing literally dozens of albums between 1950 and his passing in 1982. But the existence of that rich and deep catalog lessens the essential nature of Boppin’ in Baltimore not a single bit. The ensemble cooks on eight lengthy (but never meandering) instrumental pieces, mixing readings of jazz standard with Stitt originals. You are right there in these immersive recordings of thrilling performances than range form subtle to wildly expressive.

There’s just enough crowd sound to let you know for sure that this isn’t a crack studio session, but then the manner in which the four musicians tear into the material – with preternatural musical interplay – could only be the result of four top players interacting in real time with the added ambiance of a live audience. If you’re a hard bop fan, this set simply must become part of your collection.