The Holy Grail of jazz albums has finally arrived on CD today. It's still driving me crazy.
Lured to Toronto on May 15, 1953 by a bunch of cash flashing fans, "The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall" brought together saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charies Mingus and drummer Max Roach - all major figures and leaders unto themselves. Typical of way too much jazz of the era, no rehearsals were deemed necessary. The cats would rely strictly on standards ("Perdido," "All The Things You Are," "A Night in Tunisia") that they could "wing." In truth a lot of it came out raggedy.
Adding insult to injury - recording the show was almost an afterthought. The summit was captured on a single microphone and a borrowed Ampex tape recorder which Mingus hauled across the border. And yet, despite its' distant, "into the mystic" sound, this album would still achieve legendary status worldwide, considered one of the most important jazz events and recordings, ever.
Checked out on good earphones, Concord's new "Original Jazz Classics Remasters" series CD makes the best of a bad situation. Gone are the distracting crackling sounds of early vinyl pressings. Also improved - Parker's off-mike solos no longer sound quite so casual and "phoned-in," though the night still clearly belongs to Diz and Bud, pumping up special excitement on the hard bop ""Salt Peanuts" and "Hot House." Oh, and you can now clearly hear how Mr. Mingus tried to retroactively repair and warm up the sound by overdubbing new bass lines back in the studio. The bass "pops" whenever he drops in a new line
Still, if you dig jazz history, you ought to hear this set, in part for the oft sparkling give-and-take and also because this album serves as an apt example of everything that was slapdash and lazy in "golden era" jazz - that higher striving labels like Blue Note and Impulse would focus on fixing with their carefully planned and meticulously engineered recording sessions.
Better By a Country Mile: Also out today, and much more gratifying are Concord remasters of the studio-cut Bill Evans Trio ballads session "Moon Beams" (from 1962) and the 1958 Five Spot club recordings of the Thelonious Monk Quartet "Misterioso" recorded at the tail end of a six month residency. Still, I could kill the gabby woman blabbing through a couple of the latter's tunes.
Also Sounding Sweet: Carlos Santana's versatile set of instrumentals "ShapeShifter" starts out with Native American and rock flavors, then evolves to mellow pop and the spirituality light.
If you enjoy old songs in new clothes, check out Rita Wilson's homage to 1960s and '70s ballad gems (like "Never My Love," "Cherish" and "Love Has No Pride") on "AM/FM" (Decca). Also most worthy - art popster Theo Bleckmann's gorgeously wrought tribute "Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush" (Winter & Winter.)
For the theatrically minded, try the Broadway cast album for "Newsies" (Ghostlight/Disney) with punchy music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein which set up newpaper publishers as bad guys! (Really?) And how about Damon Albarn's rad solo foray "Dr. Dee" (EMI) an opera inspired by a scientific advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Sounding absolutely nothing like Blur or Gorillaz, it's a Old English/West African mash up deploying the strings and woodwinds of the BBC Philharmonic and a lush choir.
Cool 'n bluesy pop chick Edie Brickell is hiding out (barely) under the group identity The Gaddabouts (named after drummer Steve Gadd) on the double dynamite set "Look Out Now" (RaceCarlotta Records)
. Bucks County's own Aaron Freeman - better known as half of Ween - shares a surprisingly mellow nature (and good material) on "Marvelous Clouds" (Partisan.)