Monday, August 28, 2017

Brass Shout

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Mosiac Records boxed set  - The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions [MD7-225] - brought me back in touch with one of my all-time favorite recordings - the Argo LP Meet The Jazztet [664].

The period from 1945-1965 were exciting days for Jazz when combos seemed to form and reform on a regular basis and the Jazztet was one of the best groups to come around in quite some time [at least as far as my ears were concerned].

The original Jazztet was made up of Art Farmer, trumpet, Curtis Fuller, trombone, Benny Golson, tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner, piano, Addison Farmer, bass and Lex Humphries, drums.

What really appealed to me about the Jazztet was the writing and arranging skills of Benny Golson who has composed so many memorable tunes over the years, many of which have become Jazz standards [I Remember Clifford, Whisper Not, Along Came Betty, to name but a few].

On Meet The Jazztet Benny was at it again with intriguing original compositions including Killer Joe, Blues March, and Park Avenue Petite, the latter a lovely ballad favored by many Jazz trumpeters as a vehicle for demonstrating the richness of their tone on the instrument.

According to Lawrence Koch in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz: “The group made six albums, most of which included compositions and arrangements by Benny Golson and one which consisted of the John Lewis. Although the arranged sections of the music were important to the group’s style, there was ample opportunity for solo improvisations, and this dichotomy resulted in balanced, interesting performances. The group disbanded in 1962 ….”

Around the same time that I was “meeting” the Jazztet, a friend, who was a trumpet player and who really favored Art Farmer’s style, loaned me a United Artist vinyl entitled Art Farmer: Brass Shout [UAL 4047]. The cover art contained this striking Hugo Bell photography with a design rendered by the Stephen Haas Studios.

What was especially delightful to me was that all of the tunes on the album were arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Benny Golson, including his intriguing original composition Minor Vamp.

I say “intriguing” because I’ve always been especially attracted to Jazz when its played in a minor key. To paraphrase Ted Gioia: “Benny Golson’s best work manages to convey both elegance and a subtle funkiness.” [The Jazz Standards, p.459] Perhaps it easier for this funkiness to manifest itself in minor keyes?

The album was subtitled seven moods in brass and Blanchard King explained the conceptual background for the recording and how the personnel of “The Art Farmer Tentet” were employed on each track in these excerpts from the original liner notes.

“Through the years, music lovers have had ample opportunity to thrill to the sombrely paced beauty of a Gabrieli brass work; to the roaring coda of a Sousa march; or to the shocking effect of massed brass in the compositions of William Shumann and Shostakovich. But, the lover of good music is rarely exposed to the many moods which dynamic and imaginative arrangements can evince from the basic jazz brass ensemble augmented with so-called miscellaneous instruments (so far as jazz is concerned) such as French horn, tuba, and baritone horn.

The seven moods of this album range from the Latin feeling of Nica's Dream to an almost Sibelian aura on Stella By Starlight, each score filled with a varying degree of shouting brass intensity. Brass Shout represents a seemingly successful attempt to bring the listener a diversified presentation of eight great jazz brass instrumentalists bulwarked by one of the most formidable rhythm sections, a presentation manifesting careful arranging, orchestration, and discipline, but preserving the basic freedom and flair of an inspired jazz performance.

Utilizing the haunting, pale tones of the French horn and the deep voice of the tuba (as a melodic rather than rhythmic device), arranger Benny Golson was able to add a new dimension of sound and a new agility to the basic trumpet-trombone voicing usual in jazz works. Julius Watkins and Don Butterfield represent the top of the mark in jazz virtuosity on French horn and tuba, respectively; Watkins playing highly articulate solos on the most difficult brass instrument, and Butterfield supplying a loosely muscled bottom sound with none of the gusty, gravelly tone of other would-be tuba stars.

Each participating artist was chosen with great care and with a definite function in mind. The solemn, intense musicianship of Art Farmer looms large in this album, in fact Golson would not undertake the project until completely assured that Art was available and willing to appear on the date.

The maturity, profound conception, and artistry increasingly associated with Farmer's work is well documented herein by a lilting, building improvisation on Nica's Dream, a moody; austerely beautiful handling of April In Paris; and tightly muted drive on Golson's classic Five Spot After Dark. Ernie Royal and Lee Morgan complete a stellar trumpet section. Royal of course can do anything on the trumpet, considered by many to be the best lead man in the business. Although chosen to act as straight-man for the section, Ernie contributes a very "down," grooving solo on Autumn Leaves; as well as marvellous lead work throughout the album. Lee Morgan was chosen for his fire. A competitor for the laurels once worn by the late Clifford Brown, Morgan is today's greatest threat to established trumpet ranks. Possessing superlative range and technique, endowed with a vivid, even prankish imagination, able to perform with the stamina of a 1st chair trumpeter, Lee needs only further development of his ballad style to insure enshrinement as one of the all time great brassmen.

The trombone section is an ideal blend of strong technical and improvisational skills. Curtis Fuller, newly crowned winner of the 1959 Down Beat Critics Poll-New Star category, plays with warm humor, big tone, and rough hewn "soul".

Constantly increasing his musical abilities, gaining stature as a composer of merit, Curtis is more than fulfilling the great promise he showed as long ago as 1955. Curtis, a hard swinger in the East Coast tradition, can be heard to fullest advantage on his new United Artists Album, Sliding Easy (Catalogue No. UAL 4041-Monaural; UAS 5041-Stereo) along with Lee Morgan.

Jimmy Cleveland was a phenomenon when I heard him in Nashville, Tennessee in 1948, where he was attending Tennessee State College. Both Diz and Hamp were extending him offers to join their bands every time they played Nashville, but Cleve stayed on to finish college. Now he is one of New York's most sought after studio musicians due to consistently high solo quality, keynoted by extremely wide range and the ability to "cut" any "chart", no matter how difficult.

Wayne Andre, a young professional, highly recommended by the 'ace musicians' contractor Chet Amsterdam, is known for his flawless performances in ensemble or as a one man section. In order to broaden and deepen the sound of the trombone section and to create the most effective blend with French horn and tuba, Golson wrote in a part for baritone horn on several selections: Minor Vamp, Moanin', Five Spot After Dark, and April in Paris. James Haughton, coming to jazz from the marching band tradition, performs robustly on that horn.

The rhythm section includes Percy Heath, the much acclaimed bassist with the Modem Jazz Quartet, and a brace of fabulously articulate drummers: Philly Joe Jones and Elvin Jones. (Elvin is heard on Autumn Leaves, Stella By Starlight, and Nica's Dream). Also, pianist Bobby Timmons plays a rollicking solo on his composition, Moanin', the album's only track with piano.

Any survey of jazz history will reveal the extraordinary importance of brassmen, particularly trumpeters and cornetists, in the evolution of the music. …

Brass Shout is a further realization of the great arranging skill of Benny Golson, who is certainly the outstanding jazz arranger of 1959.

In jazz review columns, Golson's rising importance as a source of original tenor sax improvisations is being constantly discussed. It seems fitting that he should lend his mellow, sometimes searing, comfortably traditional yet dramatically modem, but always exciting stylings to these arrangements. Herein are heard all of the Golson trade marks: the use of wind instruments instead of piano to "comp" behind soloists; thick, meaty textures exploiting the middle and lower ranges of ensembles; smoky atmospheres from which improvisations emerge and take form; special quiet effects utilizing a variety of mutes; and a pervasive feeling of concealed, coiled power and earthiness.

In the words of the arranger: ‘I tried to get a round, full sound out of the horns, instead of the usual brassy blare, employing very close voicings for warmth and togetherness; and dissonances for brilliance and freshness.’ His seven scores fit the multiple talents of an outstanding brass ensemble like fine gloves.”

In the November 26, 1959 edition of Down Beat magazine, Ralph J. Gleason gave Brass Shout a rating of **** ½ stars.

“The only reason that this LP does not draw * * * * * is that this reviewer would like to make that classification a little harder to achieve. It is certainly a better album than many that have been given ***** on these pages; it has class, order, a high degree of musicianship, and thoroughly moving solos. It is an excellent example of good work that is only a slight degree removed from being a major effort.

Golson rapidly is assuming his place as one of the most dexterous composers in jazz today. He has a remarkable gift for ordering the talents of others into composite works of his own. His settings for the appearances of Farmer and the other soloists in this excursion into brass textures are deftly handled, yet are not superficial; Golson has his roots where roots ought to be all along. As a writer of jazz tunes, his compositions, such as Minor Vamp, are almost all touched with the quality that lasts.

As a trumpet soloist, Farmer is about the most consistently effective man of his generation. He has a highly developed sense of taste that makes him, in a way, a sort of Hank Jones of the trumpet. On records he is a trifle more inhibited than in person, and the overwhelming gravity of his appearance seems to creep through somehow.

The rhythm section consistently swings beautifully on this LP, and the ballad interpretations are absolutely lovely.

- Ralph J. Gleason”

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