Bop fireworks are popping and brilliant colors are flashing in streaks across the sky in Baltimore. Prestige has captured a live 1973 date of Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt at the Famous Ballroom. Ammons and Stitt lead an all-star rhythm section composed of Billy Higgins, Sam Jones and Cedar Walton. It is a rough and rambunctious concert that is matched by an equally boisterous crowd.
Ammons opens the set with an incendiary, wobbly solo on ‘Just in Time’ before yielding to Walton who is undermiked but is otherwise magnificent. Stitt and Ammons trade licks near the end and it is rough and edgy, almost a fistfight waiting to happen. Ammons begins again on ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me.’ His distortions dissolve the natural gentleness of the piece. It is a raspy, unpredictable reading. Stitt plays alto in a serene and understated way to contrast the harsh outbursts of Ammons.
‘Theme from Love Story’ features the trio of Higgins, Jones and Walton. In what would be a run-through of a familiar movie track turns out to be innovative and creative and fresh adventure. On the next two songs, the band brings out Etta Jones who wails on ‘Exactly Like You’ accompanied by a cranky, growling horns. They are an interesting match: Jones roars and Ammons and Stitt respond in kind with equal force and determination. Jones turns it down a notch on the soulful ‘Don’t Go Strangers.’ But even here, it’s a boozy rendition that gets quite a reception from the audience.
Ammons and Stitt really take off during ‘Autumn Leaves’ where they play in unison and then branch off and play off each other. This is exceeded only by ‘Blues up and Down’ which is a wild dangerous ride. This is where Ammons and Stitt truly shine working off of each other in an endless flow of melodies and statements.
"Left Bank Encores" is a timeless concert whose only faults may be the slightly inferior quality of the recording (although you do feel like you are sitting at a table surrounded by shouts and conversations) and, while Etta Jones is fine, one wishes to hear more Ammons and Stitt going at it, jabbing each other, testing each other.