Jazz review: reissues of 2 favorite LP's
Anyone who has a collection of recordings -- whether LP or CD, and regardless of the type of music -- has a few, long-time favorites that have stood the test of time. From my jazz collection of some 3500 titles, there are maybe 100 that form my "desert island" selections.
Two of my long-time favorites have recently been re-mastered and re-issued on LP (they have been available on standard CD for some time). If you have an analog front end in your system, and you love jazz -- hell, if you just love great MUSIC -- you need to add these gems to your own collection. (If you have only CD capability, then get the CD's -- the music is still great.)
1. Count Basie: "Chairman of the Board" (originally released on the Roulette label as part of the their "Birdland" series -- SR 52032);
2. Ron Carter: "Piccolo" (a 2-LP set originally released on the Milestone label, M-55004).
The Basie LP was recorded in 1959, and features not only great music, but very good surfaces in this new pressing. The Basie band always swung like crazy in the great Kansas City tradition, and this recording is one of the best -- maybe THE best -- studio recordings by the band. The original LP release had excellent audio quality, even by the standards of hi-fi enthusiasts of the time, and this new pressing on Quiex SV super vinyl is even better.
The Basie band experienced a renaissance during the mid-to-late 1950's, with some former members returning to the fold, and some stellar new members joining the group. Although the Basie band was always a group effort, it featured fine soloists (as did Duke Ellington's Orchestra), and there are some standouts on this recording, such as Frank Wess, Thad Jones, Al Grey, Frank Foster, Joe Newman, Benny Powell, Marshall Royal, and the fine work of drummer Sonny Payne. If you like driving, big band swing music that has a healthy blues influence, then acquire this gem. The LP version is the best choice, but the CD is well worth owning just to have this music.
Miles Davis chose Ron Carter as the bassist for the standout quartet he formed a year or two after John Coltrane left the band in 1961. Davis said at the time that Carter was a genius on bass, and if anyone needs proof that Miles was right, this recording will provide the evidence. Carter is one a very small handful of bassists that have forged new frontiers with the instrument -- in tone, in rhythmic style, and in solo capability -- to the extent that the greatest bassists playing today, such as Dave Holland and Charlie Haden, were hugely influenced by Carter's playing.
Carter recorded a number of excellent albums during the latter half of the 1970's, and this album is arguably his best from that period. "Piccolo" was recorded live at Sweet Basil's (NYC) in March, 1977. It features Ron Carter's marvellous quartet of the time, comprised of Kenny Barron (piano), Buster Williams (bass), and Ben Riley (drums, percussion). The title "Piccolo" derives from the instrument that Carter plays on this recording, the piccolo bass, which in roughly mid-way in size between the standard upright bass and the cello. As such, it's frequency range extends a bit higher than the standard bass, and in Carter's hands it has a wonderfully rich, resonant tone that soars and sings. The music played during these live sets is what makes jazz such an incredible music: it sings, it's joyous, and it reaches inside you to strike a deep response.
As you may have noted from the instrumentation in the group, this quartet has two bassists, and the interplay between Carter and Williams is marvellous. On some cuts, Carter plays arco (uses the bow), with Williams playing pizzicato. On other cuts, both men use their fingers to play intricately interwoven cords to build to great rhythmic intensity. The tunes range from jazz standards , such as "Blue Monk" and "Three Little Words", to Latin-flavored pieces such as "Tambien Concido Como" (the closing cut, and one of my two favorites that includes the opening piece, "Saguaro" -- both tunes are written by Carter, incidentally).
The original LP of this recording was very good for a commercial release, and the re-mastered version is even better. The deep bass tones are rich and buttery, and if you have a system that accurately reproduces the bass fundamentals, you will LOVE what you hear. The re-mastering has moved the instruments further forward, but not aggressively so. Kenny Barron's piano sounds like a REAL piano in a small jazz club, and Ben Riley's drum set -- while spread a smidge too widely -- has real skins being struck by real drumsticks. In one of the most revealing touches on the LP, there is a selection in which Riley plays a finger cymbal, and it rings with a bell-clear resonance that hangs and hangs in the air in a way that you simply never hear in digital recordings. It's one of those recorded moments that says "this is real, folks".
You may conclude that I think that "Piccolo" is a sonic winner -- and you'd be right. But what makes this recording so special is the music and the incredible interplay between the musicians. Once in a while, if you hear a lot of live jazz, you catch a band that has been together a while that plays almost telepathically. Carter's quartet truly thought, felt, improvised, and played like one person. What a fabulous bit of luck that their stay at Sweet Basil's was recorded live for all of us to hear.
There are a lot of good-to-great audiophile recordings that you can buy, but most have largely forgettable music. If you want a recording with superb music that also has great sound, then plunk down $35 for the "Piccolo" LP. The LP is pressed on 180 gram vinyl (also true for the Basie LP), and the surfaces are extremely quiet.
Both LP's can be ordered from Elusive Disc. Now that you have read this review, go to Elusive Disc (www.elusivedisc.com) and order both of these LP's -- you won't be sorry.
Good listening to all of you.