Friday, September 18, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 146: Bennie Green

The Prestige commitment to 12-inch LPs was not yet complete. This session did eventually get included in a full-length album, but its initial release was one of the last of the 200-series 10-inchers (there'd be four more), and even more surprisingly, one of the last of their 78 RPM releases (there'd be four more of them, including another by Green from a later 1955 session).

Which means that a recording session is changing. This Bennie Green session is four songs, totalling about 20 minutes of music, or just enough for a 10-inch LP, or a couple of singles. Not exactly perfect for singles, but the two cuts that were released on 78 and 45 ("Say Jack!" and "Sometimes I'm Happy") were the shortest ones.

Compare that with the Miles Davis session of a few days earlier, which produced about 36 minutes of music, and an entire 12-inch LP. Or the MJQ's session of a few weeks later, the same. Or the first Prestige 12-inch, recorded by Billy Taylor the previous April. All of Taylor's tunes were single-length, in the three minute range, but there were 12 of them, adding up again to about 36 minutes, and none were ever released as singles.

And compare all of those to this 1949 session by Stan Getz,  which produced four songs, all of them in the 3 1/2 minute range, all of them released on 78.

And, of course, even with Bob Weinstock's famous no-rehearsal, few-alternate takes philosophy, one wasn't always going to be able to record a whole album in one day. But great jazz didn't necessarily require endless studio time. Kind of Blue was recorded in two days. Compare that with some of the 70s rockers with endless budgets and endless studio time. accounting for tastes...but compare the results.

Anyway, back to Bennie Green. As I've noted earlier, Green could play anything, and he continues to demonstrate it. And he could do it on the trombone. Here he takes on three ballads, including "Body and Soul," which Coleman Hawkins pretty much owns as one of the definitive tenor sax solos. But Green manages to get the same depth of emotion on the trombone. "Laura" as a jazz standard is probably most closely associated with Charlie Parker with strings. Green gives it his own delicacy and sensivity.

"Laura" also features an unexpected and utterly entrancing solo by Cliff Smalls, hitherto unknown to
me, but a veteran of some ensembles with strong pedigrees, including Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins. Perhaps he had a particular rapport with Green because he was also a trombonist. He had played trombone in the Earl Hines band that also featured Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and he was the backup pianist for Hines. Actually, Hines used several backups, including Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy and Nat "King" Cole, but Smalls was reportedly his favorite.

On "Say Jack!" Green's trombone takes on the job of a rhythm and blues tenor sax man -- and also vocalist, leading the ensemble in a ragged-but-right rhythm-and-bluesy chorus, which is not repeated anywhere else in the song, as the group gradually forgets that it's playing R&B, and moves into bebop territory -- particularly Charlie Rouse's solo.

Rouse and Smalls get a lot of solo time on "Sometimes I'm Happy," but what really kicks that number into high gear is the conga playing of  Candido, whom Rudy Van Gelder moves to the forefront, and a good move it is.
The 10-inch LP was simply titled Bennie Green Sextet. When the session found its way to 12-inch, a year or so later, it was called Bennie Green Blows His Horn in Hi-Fi; by the time it was reissued as part of a 7100-series LP a couple of years later, perhaps Hi-Fi was no longer quite such an exciting new technology, because the album became simply Bennie Green Blows His Horn.

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