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Jazz aux Champs-Elysees by Various Artists

Ever since Dexter Gordon won an Oscar for his work in Bertrand Tavernier’s ’Round Midnight, the story of American jazz musicians finding rejuvenation under European stage lights has been a mainstream one. A lot of what those musicians actually played over there, however, has been hard to find Stateside, instead trickling in across the decades through traded tapes, bootlegs and shoddy releases (with a few notable exceptions). So, it is with some interest that this grab-bag of live dates, one-off jams and unreleased performances arrives on the international market.

Apparently, in the late 1950's, a pianist-cum-radio presenter named Jacques (or his preferred “Jack”) Diéval helmed a show called “Jazz aux Champs-Élysées.” Featuring the cream of the Parisian bebop elite (the aptly named JACE All Stars), the show also welcomed a rotating line-up of American (and European) stars. Included here, for instance, are such luminaries as Lester Young, Lucky Thompson, Chet Baker, Stan Getz & Donald Byrd – most of whom are by now well known for various European recordings, the availability of which, however, leaves much to be desired. If, like many a fan, you are of the mind that any unreleased performances from these masters are worth hearing, then you will undoubtedly rejoice at this collection.

The results, however, are maddeningly middle of the road. Young is his usual late-‘50’s laconic self on the two numbers included here, but sounds downright bored on the stop-time section of “Lester Leaps In.” He perks up a bit on “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid,” perhaps because he is backed by Rene Urtreger on piano and Pierre Michelot on bass, two of Paris’ finest accompanists of the time. Though he is still pithy, he digs into several verses of the warhorse, spinning off classic lick after jaunty riff, reminiscent of the best of his Verve work of the period. Lucky Thompson and Chet Baker deliver similarly mediocre (for them) performances – Thompson’s lazy, arpeggiated runs rambling over a glacial rendition of “Lover Man,” only gathering a head of steam on “Don’t Blame Me” after several minutes of unadorned theme statement. Of the Americans, perhaps Stan Getz fares best on his mid-tempo run through of “Perdido,” wiggling his way through a busy arrangement, reminding us all what a strong straight-ahead saxophonist he was before the bossa nova years.

The real value of this collection is the airtime it gives to several relatively unknown European musicians, who – if somewhat derivative – could certainly hold their own with the best bop musicians of the day. Guitarist René Thomas has a confident melodic imagination and a crisp, staccato attack on “Rose Room,” his precise articulation a welcome change of pace from many of his six-stringed colleagues. Vibraphonist Géo Daly is a revelation, his swirling solo on “Moonglow” both virtuosic and breathtaking. Perhaps drummer Daniel Humair is the best example of the continental divide indicated here: backing Donald Byrd on brushes, he is a competent accompanist, but unmemorable; as a featured guest of the JACE All Stars, he jumps all over his kit, incorporating ideas from Sid Catlett to Gene Krupa on down to Art Blakey, maintaining a melodic, talking current across the top of all that torrential rhythm.

There are currently over 100 hours of jazz videos and audio recordings available at Ina.fr, much of it the kind of high-quality jam sessions that will appeal to fans of the Jazz at the Philharmonic series on Verve. This collection is a bit too hit-or-miss to truly stand as a “definitive” collection of this material. The American names are undoubtedly helpful as a marketing tool, but the real treasure would be a well-edited series of recordings from European masters who do not have as much recognition beyond their own borders.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
  • CD Title: Jazz aux Champs-Elysees
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Ina Editions
  • Rating: Three Stars
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