Sunday, March 22, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 93: Gigi Gryce

This is only on the very borderline of qualifying for this blog. Originally a French Vogue recording, it was first released in the US by Blue Note, and only came out on Prestige as one of their 7800 reissue releases in 1971. It was still Bob Weinstock's in 1971, but he was soon to sell to Fantasy, where it would become strictly a reissue label. I haven't been including any of the 7800 reissues, but I'm including this because...well, because by the time I read the small print and realized I shouldn't be including it, I'd already listened to it a couple of times through, and I was hooked.

This is the Hampton touring band, plus a few French musicians, and again it's Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones taking center stage, as they continue to make their bones as the hot new, young arrangers. Jones is credited as arranger and Gryce as leader. I suspect that being leader, on this session, may have involved more than just standing in front of the bandstand with a baton. It sounds as though some full-scale conducting was needed. This sound is so full, so orchestral, so dynamic. He had begun his studies in classical composition in 1948, and while this is jazz, not some third stream music, it combines the power and sensitivity of classical music with...well, with the power and sensitivity of jazz.

Most of the rereleases, both European and American, have been under Clifford Brown's name, and Brownie is always an important addition to any session he's on, and he has some great solos, but it's Gryce and Jones who make this a singular experience. Shows what a couple of inspired and ambitious young composer/arranger/conductors can do when you give them their head and a 17-piece orchestra. And it's not what these guys were playing with Hampton. These recordings were made "against Hampton's wishes," according to Gryce's web page. There must have been a certain amount of unrest at this point in the tour. Annie Ross was fired, George Wallington either quit or was fired, and the rest of the band was making music that Hamp did not want them to make.

I love Lionel Hampton. I think that as revered as he is as a giant of jazz, he actually doesn't get enough credit for being the true giant he was. But I'm glad Gryce and Jones went against his wishes here.

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