Opening the Floodgates

With coffers from a slew of independent labels, Fantasy just might have the most extensive vault of jazz and blues performances known to man. Through their Original Jazz Classics series much of the important work from the Contemporary, Prestige, and Riverside/Jazzland catalogs has been brought to light for new generations to explore. However, anyone who has ever peeked at the complete discographies of both the Prestige and Riverside labels as offered by the Japanese Jazz Critique books will attest to the fact that there are still a considerable number of titles still to be reissued. To this end, a new batch of two-fers includes more than a few gems that have been screaming for a second chance for quite some time now. As an added bonus, Fantasy has opted to incorporate inside the CD booklets color reproductions of the albums represented on each disc (oddly enough, this is the case with all the discs except Frank Wess' THE LONG ROAD).

Getting our survey underway, we'll start with what easily has to be one of the most important reissues of the year. The singular and highly underrated vocalist Andy Bey has experienced somewhat of a comeback in recent times, with two newer recordings and club appearances as part of the Bey renaissance. Still, one had to wonder why it took so long for Fantasy to reissue the two groundbreaking Prestige dates he led with his sisters Salome and Geraldine. With original pressings fetching prices in the three-digit range, the albums NOW! HEAR! And 'ROUND MIDNIGHT are now packaged on one disc as ANDY BEY AND THE BEY SISTERS (Prestige 24245).

With discreet backing provided by Bey's piano and tight rhythm sections that include Richard Davis, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, and several others, Andy & the Bey Sisters deliver a down-home vibe with a seductive set of obscure and well-known standards and three-part harmonies that just plead for your attention. I can still remember the first time I had a friend spin for me "Sister Sadie" from a vinyl copy of the NOW! HEAR! album. That enchanting sensation returned, with the newly remastered disc sounding even better. There clearly aren't enough superlatives to adequately describe this music, other than to say that this disc belongs in every comprehensive jazz collection!

Collecting two more Prestige albums that have been feverishly sought by record collectors for years, THE LONG ROAD (Prestige 24247) includes the Frank Wess sets SOUTHERN COMFORT and YO HO! >From 1953 to 1964, Wess was a mainstay of the Basie band and his own appearances outside of the organization were few and far between, making these Prestige sides even more of a treat. SOUTHERN COMFORT is the more verbose of the pair, complete with arrangements for an eight-piece ensemble provided by Oliver Nelson, however YO HO! Is no less engaging. It sports an exceptional quintet with trumpeter Thad Jones sharing the front line with Wess and Roy Haynes affording the suitable amount of his own patented "snap crackle." Besides Wess' robust tenor work, what makes these performances extra special are the opportunities provided for his singular voice on the flute.

As the end of the sixties approached, Prestige had its hands fully entrenched in the soul jazz market, experiencing success with a stable of organists that included Don Patterson, Richard Groove Holmes, and Jack McDuff. The latter gentleman's tenure at Prestige included more than a dozen dates as a leader, not to mention a significant number of appearances as a sideman. Maybe this is why SILKEN SOUL (Prestige 24242) opts for the compilation approach, offering tracks from no less than seven separate McDuff albums. About half of WALK ON BY is included here and then the other six sets get by with one or two titles. This all proves to be a bit frustrating and one wonders if full reissues of the other titles will ever come to light. Still, the music shines with a molten glow and such heady contributors as Red Holloway, Harold Ousley, Pat Martino, George Benson, and Joe Dukes help keep the pots on.

Another organist who had great success in the '60s via his string of albums for Prestige was Johnny "Hammond" Smith. The late organist has been the subject of several previous reissue packages and the addition of THE SOULFUL BLUES (Prestige 24244) to the lot makes for more stimulation of the groovy kind. The 1967 album EBB TIDE features Smith's mid-'60s group with drummer John Harris and tenor saxophonist Houston Person on such soul classics as "Stand By Me," "Knock on Wood," and "The 'In' Crowd." Even more thought-provoking is 1968's NASTY, the recording debut of guitarist John Abercrombie. With Person and drummer Grady Tate on hand, Smith churns out one succulent groove after another, making this set worth the price of admission.

It's back to the compilation line of attack with the Willis Jackson set AT LARGE (24243). For starters, you end up with one selection shy of getting the entire SHUCKIN' album. Then it's a few here and there from SWIVEL HIPS, NEOPOLITAN NIGHTS, IN MY SOLITUDE, and REALLY GROOVIN'. But check this out; if you buy the Jackson set GENTLE GATOR you pick up the stray track from SHUCKIN' and can also get the rest of the cuts to complete the albums REALLY GROOVIN' and IN MY SOLITUDE (get that CD burner going and you've got the chance to assemble these albums in their original format!). Chosen methods aside, nothing can be faulted when it comes to Willis' robust tenor and the tracks with a Latin flair are especially handsome.

Speaking of what Jelly Roll Morton described as "that Spanish tinge," vibist Dave Pike concocted his own take on the Latin and bossa nova craze that was sweeping the country back in the early '60s. His two New Jazz releases, BOSSA NOVA CARNIVAL and LIMBO CARNIVAL have been as rare as those proverbial hen's teeth and what a treat two have them both combined on one disc as CARNAVALS (Prestige 24248). Both recorded in 1962, BOSSA NOVA CARNIVAL is a spotlight for the compositions of the talented Brazilian writer Joao Donato and the line-up includes Clark Terry, Kenny Burrell, Chris White, and Rudy Collins, the last two individuals being sideman with Dizzy Gillespie's ensemble of the period. LIMBO CARNIVAL has more of a Caribbean flavor with Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" and Richie Valens' "La Bamba" part of the repertoire. Leo Wright, Tommy Flanagan, and Ray Barretto are among the endowed hands on deck.

Although it has taken several years to come about, one can now go into a store and just about dig up every album that pianist Jaki Byard ever made as a leader. As for his Prestige sides, Fantasy has started to close the gap by releasing SOLO/STRINGS (Prestige 24246). With the exception of SUNSHINE OF MY SOUL (available now only via Japan), all of Byard's significant works for Prestige are currently available on compact disc. On this latest offering, 1969's SOLO PIANO album (sans one cut left off due to time restrictions) is mixed with the 1968 set, JAKI BYARD WITH STRINGS! While the former title is obviously self-explanatory, more need be said about the latter. The "strings" mentioned in the title do not indicate those of a symphonic nature, but instead refer to the use of violinist Ray Nance, guitarist George Benson, cellist Ron Carter, and bassist Richard Davis. Aside from mixing the solo and group tracks throughout the disc (something that can be easily solved by using the programming capability of your player), no bones shall be picked with this gem.

Although never acknowledged as such with much regularity, Sonny Red emerged from the '60s as one of the most distinctive alto saxophonists on the scene. Appearing on a number of Donald Byrd's late period Blue Note classics, Red's own work as a leader was surprisingly small in number, including one record for Blue Note, his first set for Jazzland (BREEZIN'), and the last two for the Riverside subsidiary as collected on RED, BLUE & GREEN (Milestone 47086). Assembled from three sessions in 1961, the albums THE MODE and IMAGES are among Red's best. It certainly didn't hurt that the hired hands included Blue Mitchell, Grant Green (a rare appearance away from Blue Note), Jimmy Cobb, Barry Harris, and Cedar Walton. Tracks such as "Never, Never Land" display Red's gorgeous tone to full advantage, while "Super-20" and "The Mode" survey more audacious ground. It's all heady stuff that fills in a significant gap in Red's meager catalog.

Back in the early '60s, tenor saxophone giants Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin decided they would have a go at leading a band together. While the enterprise lasted for a relatively short period of time, the pair did manage to record what amounted to five records for Prestige and another five for Jazzland. BLUES UP AND DOWN (Milestone 47084) reissues a Jazzland album of the same name plus GRIFF & LOCK (only TOUGH TENORS has yet to come back out on disc). These 1960 and 1961 sessions embrace the kind of vim and vigor that mark all of the Davis & Griffin sets. Bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley hold down the fort as pianists Junior Mance and Lloyd Mayers swap duties at the piano. Among the many highlights are "Leapin' on Lennox," "Second Balcony Jump," and "Midnight at Minton's."

Finally, we step back a little farther in time for the material that comprises Randy Weston's SOLO, DUO & TRIO (Milestone 47085). About half of the cuts come from the pianist's first date as a leader, 1954's RANDY WESTON PLAYS COLE PORTER IN A MODERN MOOD, while the rest come from the 1955 session at Rudy Van Gelder's entitled TRIO & SOLO. The trio cuts feature bassist Sam Gill and drummer Art Blakey and have that dark and mysterioso quality that marks Herbie Nichols' work of around the same period. The duo performances with just Gill and the solo recital are not quite as moving, but still hold their share of rewards for the attentive listener.

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