Friday, December 04, 2015

Listening to Prestige part 155: Art Farmer-Gigi Gryce

This is the second and last album by the Farmer-Gryce quintet. Like John Lewis and Miles Davis, Farmer and Gryce wanted to take jazz in new directions, and like Lewis, they wanted to establish an ensemble that would stay together and grow together.

Unlike Lewis, they weren't quite able to manage it. They were able to scuffle as jazz groups do, picking up gigs in clubs, but it wasn't enough. Gryce in particular was starting to compose a different kind of music, one that probably required a different kind of listening framework, like the one Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet were beginning to find. Between the May session for Prestige, which
produced the When Farmer Met Gryce album, and this one five months later, they had lost Freddie Redd and Art Taylor. Duke Jordan and Philly Joe Jones were great replacements, but they were also just passing through. Jones, who already had a strong connection with Miles Davis, was about to join the group that Miles was putting together to jump to Columbia with. Jordan was moving in the direction of leading his own group, and unfortunately also moving in the direction of heroin addiction, which would derail his career for a number of years. I tend to think of Jordan mostly in terms of the 40s, and his days with Charlie Parker, but actually he had a prolific later career. He moved to Denmark in the 1970s, and would record a prodigious number of albums for the Danish Steeplechase label.

By early 1956 Farmer and Gryce had to give up on their vision, though Farmer was to realize it several years later with another composer/saxophonist, Benny Golson, in the Jazztet.

Art Farmer, in a recent blog interview with Ted Panken, shared some memories of Gigi Gryce:
 Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early.  The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around.  He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer.  If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music.  Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer.  Some people just leave too early.
Gryce didn't leave as some did, succumbing to illness and addiction and dying young. As I've written before, he withdrew from the music business, disillusioned by racism and other factors. So with a relatively small recorded output, he is remembered mostly today as a composer. And on this session, Art Farmer, no mean composer himself, turned the tunesmithing chores over to Gryce, with one
composition by Duke Jordan: "Forecast," which kicked off the session and is first on the album. Ira Gitler, in his liner notes, describes this as a tune "which got everyone loose," and that sounds about right. Jordan was a talented composer--his "Jordu" remains a jazz standard--working in a style that allowed for some spirited hard bop improvisation.

"Evening in Casablanca" is described by Gitler as having been inspired by a North African swing on the Lionel Hampton tour that became such an important springboard for so much modern jazz of the 50s, and that sounds about right, too. The music has an Arabic feel to it. And it's not likely to have been inspired by the Bogart film. As iconic as that movie has become today, back then it was just an oldie, a popular war movie from the 40s, somewhat tainted by the HUAC investigation of its screenwriter Howard Koch.  In
1957 it would begin a run at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA, which lasts to this day as an exam week tradition, and begin its ascent into legend. "Shabozz" comes from the same influence.

"Evening in Casablanca," "Satellite" and "Nica's Tempo" are all excursions into experimental, longer forms by Gryce, "Nica's Tempo," in particular, has become part of the jazz repertoire, recorded by Art Blakey, Oscar Pettiford, Tito Puente and Johnny Griffin among others.

This session was issued on a Prestige LP as Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Gigi Gryce, and later as a New Jazz LP just under Farmer's name, as Evening in Casablanca. This was a 1963 release, when the Jazztet had made Farmer's name a lot bigger, and the movie Casablanca had become a cult and late-night TV favorite. It was also released in the mid-60s on Britain's Esquire label, somewhat bizarrely, as Music for that Wild Party. The liner notes are Ira Gitler's original Prestige notes, with a little preface added urgiong you to take this record to any wild parties you're invited to, and more or less suggesting that if you do, you'll be invited to more and wilder parties.

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