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A Second Chance at Life

When it comes to the opportunity to expose some of the many talents that got lost in the shuffle during the ‘50s and ‘60s, no other concern has more to unearth than Fantasy’s group of associated labels, including Prestige, Riverside, and Contemporary. Through their Limited Edition Series, Fantasy is able to present releases that will undoubtedly appeal to only a small number of jazz fans, but will nonetheless have importance in bringing to light some unfairly ignored performers and performances. A recent set of reissues includes three dates from the Riverside/Jazzland imprimatur, two from Prestige, and one from Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label.

Although it would be his only set as a leader, trumpeter Don Sleet would make the most of it for his obscure Jazzland set All Members. An underground collector’s item for decades, this long overdue reissue belongs in any hard bop collection and the fast company that the trumpeter kept for this 1961 recording included Jimmy Heath, Wynton Kelly, Ron Carter, and Jimmy Cobb. Two tunes by Clifford Jordan up the ante even further, as does Sleet’s strengths as a trumpet soloist. Don’t let the lack of name recognition deter you on this one; it’s a real keeper!

Still active on the jazz scene, Detroit native Dave Pike was all of 22 years old when he made It’s Time For Dave Pike for Riverside in 1961. The illustrious group he fronts included hometown hero Barry Harris, Reggie Workman, and Billy Higgins. While the material may have not been all that unusual, Pike’s expertise is immediately recognizable. He speaks with a pronounced vibrato and develops solos that have logic and grace that is rare for one so young. Among many highlights, don’t miss an unaccompanied take on "Little Girl Blue."

Possibly the rarest of the rare, Gemini would be one of the few solo forums that was ever provided for Les Spann, who doubled on both the flute and guitar. He gets to shine on both instruments here, backed by Julius Watkins on French horn and a rhythm section that includes Tommy Flanagan, Sam Jones, and either Tootie Heath or Louis Hayes on drums. There’s a nice mix between choice standards (the Quincy Jones line "Stockholm Sweetnin’" is a real winner) and two Spann originals. As light and airy as his approach to the flute was, Spann’s guitar work features a pronounced bluesy edge that makes him a well-defined soloist who is worthy of rediscovery.

Prior to their fifteen minutes of fame, enjoyed just after making a strong appearance on the Impulse release Illumination by the Elvin Jones-Jimmy Garrison Sextet, multi-instrumentalists Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons recorded two albums for the West Coast Contemporary label which were quickly forgotten, except by the small crowd of collectors that has lately been paying huge sums for original pressings. The Cry! is the best of the pair and finds Lasha on flute and Simmons on alto saxophone. This 1962 set strikes an avant pose through the use of two bassists (one being the mercurial Gary Peacock) and a drummer, without the presence of a chording instrument. Although the structures explore new horizons, the basic rhythmic pulse keeps things grounded, making this previously ignored gem accessible and forward thinking at the same time.

Our last disc comes from the Prestige catalog and completes the reissue process in regards to Charles McPherson’s output for the label. McPherson’s Mood was cut in 1969 and finds the alto man fronting a basic quartet setting with Barry Harris, Buster Williams, and Roy Brooks. The tunes are McPherson originals, save for Stevie Wonder’s "My Cherie Amour" and Cole Porter’s "I Get a Kick Out of You," but the modus operandi is clearly bebop all the way. Nothing all that revelatory occurs, but it’s nice to complete the McPherson catalog with this blast from the past.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Various Artists
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