Saturday, July 25, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 65a: Zoot Sims

(Still filling in gaps from 1952. This incredible session just showed up on YouTube).

Al Cohn and Zoot Sims had played together a lot, starting with Woody Herman, and they would go on to be one of the most satisfying saxophone pairings in jazz history, but this was their first session together in a group led by one of them, and they hit the ground running. Having Kai Winding along doesn't hurt either.

"Tangerine" is a beautiful melody by movie composer Victor Schertzinger. It was given its most popular treatment in 1942 by Jimmy Dorsey, around the time that Zoot was joining the Benny Goodman orchestra as a teenager. It gets a swing to bop treatment here, starting with some amazing counterpointing by Cohn and Winding behind a Sims lead on the head, and then giving plenty of solo room to all three of them.

"Zootcase" begins with a complex lead-in by George Wallington to a simple but catchy unison riff by the three horns, terrific solo work by each of them, with the continued strong presence of Wallington, culminating in a piano solo, then a Blakey solo, after which the ensemble riffs it out.

"The Red Door" is a composition by Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims. As with "Tangerine," it starts with an intricate interplay between solo and ensemble, leading into a beautiful, lyrical solo by Zoot, followed by Kai and Al. One expects Al and Zoot to know just how to play together, and how to bring out the best in each other, but Kai adds one more piece of complete understanding to the mix.

"Morning Fun"  is an Al and Zoot composition, played by the quintet after Kai Winding had packed up for the day, and it's more of a blowing session, starting with vivid, uptempo cadenza leading into a two-horn riff, leading into lots more good stuff. George Wallington only takes a brief solo at the end, but his presence is felt throughout.

"Tangerine" and "Zootcase" were released on an eponymous EP. All four tunes came out on a ten-inch entitled Zoot Sims All Stars, and again packaged with a Stan Getz session (and continuing to trade on the Woody Herman classic) as The Brothers. Modern jazz did have a sense of humor--witness Dizzy Gillespie and Slim Gaillard, among others--but modern jazz packaging was not generally noted for much of a sense of humor, so it's interesting that Prestige had Don Martin as one of its album cover artists. Martin only did about a half dozen covers for them, and I don't know if the association ended because it turned out there was no room in jazz packaging for a sense of humor, or just because he went to work full time for Mad.

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