Friday, June 12, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 119: Joe Holiday/Billy Taylor

Joe Holiday is one of my new favorite musicians--a guy I had never heard of when I started this project, but who I've grown to love over the four previous sessions he recorded for Prestige, establishing himself as the king of mambo jazz.

That being said, listening to this session on the heels of the Sonny Rollins/Kenny Dorham/Elmo Hope session, Holiday is not in their league as an improviser. Where they were Movin' Out, Holiday is more like Stayin' Home. But I tell you, there's nothing wrong with stayin' home if you can roll back the rug, have a couple of rum and cokes, take a cute girl in your arms and do the mambo all night.

If Holiday's improvisations don't break any new ground, he can surely play the bejeezus out of a
melody, he can swing, he can bring Latin to bebop and vice versa.

Billy Taylor's improvisations are a lot more adventurous, but he and Holiday make a good fit. There are all sorts of different ways of being on the same page musically.

But if I were going to give an MVP for this session, I think it would be Charlie Smith. On the earlier Holiday/Taylor collaboration, they had the benefit of Machito's rhythm section. Here Smith handles it all, on traps and congas, and he keeps it going.

The cuts from this session were released as singles. The mambo was still a hot dance craze in 1954. Apparently, they only came out on 78. Perhaps the market for Latin music was still mostly 78 RPM. In the introductory chapter to Oscar Hijuelos' magnificent novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, as Cesar Castillo is dying, he stumbles and knocks over a credenza in his apartment, and dozens of 78s fall to the floor and shatter. "I Love You Much" had what seems to be a variously titled song on its flip side. The session list has it as "Chasin' the Bongo," but every 78 RPM catalog I've found lists it as "Chasin' the Boogie." Also, every catalog has an unknown flip side to "It Might As Well Be Spring," but the song was over five minutes long, so it has to have been Part 1 and Part 2. It looks as though no one in recent memory has actually seen a copy of either of these discs. Maybe they were part of Cesar Castillo's record collection.

They were included on the Holiday/Taylor Mambo Jazz 10-inch, then had to wait for years-later reissues.

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