The re-release of this relatively obscure Mulligan CD, certainly not as famous as his West Coast pianoless quartet sessions or his Concert Jazz Band albums but significant as a comeback after five years without recording, may have been significant in itself.
However, Artists House Foundation has made available more than the original album itself.
In cooperation with Franca R. (Contessa Franca Rota Borghini Baldovinetti) Mulligan president of Mulligan Publishing, and not so coincidentally Mulligan’s wife after Astor Piazzolla introduced them in Milan in 1974 Artists House Foundation has included a DVD that includes a wealth of information about Mulligan. For example, the DVD includes four hours of content, such as:
•All of the arrangements in print for The Age Of Steam, including each instrumental part, which can be printed from your computer
•Some printable Concert Jazz Band arrangements of a few of the songs from The Age Of Steam
•As a result, over 700 pages of music are encoded on the DVD, courtesy of Franca R. Mulligan
•An hour-long master class conducted by Mulligan, available from Hal Leonard Corporation, that provides insights into his thoughts about jazz history, composition and improvising and the current music scene
•A 60-minute documentary about Mulligan, Listen: Gerry Mulligan, sponsored by the Library of Congress with a grant from the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Fund
•Interviews with some of the participants in The Age Of Steam recording session, including Tom Scott, Bob Brookmeyer, Roger Kellaway and Stephan Goldman
The result is a comprehensive resource for studying, appreciating and enjoying the uniqueness of Mulligan, who played baritone saxophone with an uncharacteristic lightness and infinite imagination and who arranged with a gracefulness that emphasized the unfettered movement of the instruments, similar to the linear, contrapuntal work of the quartet but with an expansion of the voicings. Not only do we get to hear Mulligan again, but we get to see him in the process of creation, and we get to view the results of his composing.
On The Age Of Steam, Mulligan appears to be recollecting. "K-4 Pacific" recalls some of Mulligan’s experiences in his home in Ohio, particularly the passage of a locomotive by his house there, as suggested by the dynamics of the arrangement featuring Scott on soprano sax and Kellaway on electric piano. The situation serving as inspiration of "One To Ten In Ohio" goes unexplained, although it could be one of the more interesting of the stories inspiring the songs of The Age Of Steam. But it proceeds with funk and a build-up of sonic richness as Joe Porcaro’s percussion and Chuck Domanico’s electric bass lines animate the slowly expanding chords. In addition, "Maytag" refers to the time that Mulligan spent in the basement of his mother’s house, with yet another driving rhythm serving as a springboard for even more melodic, clearly conceived solos from himself, Brookmeyer, Kellaway and Scott. On the other hand, his "Grand Tour" attains a spiritual quality of slow, stately grace that contrasts with the humor and light-heartedness of most of the other tunes.
Listen: Gerry Mulligan follows Mulligan’s career through intercutting of comments from his acquaintances and admirers like David Amram and Wynton Marsalis with archival footage of Mulligan throughout his career. The documentary starts with Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, whose Compadres album is yet another must-have, as they kick off "Things Ain’t What They Used To Be." And when Brubeck gets a chance to talk about his friend and associate as Iola Brubeck nods assent, he says that "If something hit him that inspired him, you couldn’t hold him back. He’d jump in. If it was in the middle of my chorus, he would be buzzing like a wild bumblebee. Gerry didn’t like standing around, waiting his turn. He’d jump in and try to make more happen. And he did.... . With Gerry, you feel as if you’re listening to the past, present and future of jazz all at one time." From his work with Gene Krupa to his participation in the seminal Birth Of The Cool session to his work in helping establish the West Coast cool sound to his rethinking of the big band sound to his redefinition of the baritone sax as a solo instrument, Gerry Mulligan was a transitional figure who took to heart the impressionistic style of Claude Thornhill, absorbed bebop, investigated color and linear improvisation, and left an impressive body of music that still is being uncovered.