Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 165: Tadd Dameron

How do you make a modern jazz sound with a full group after Miles Davis's nonet, with its tubas and French horns and world-changing arrangements? If you're Tadd Dameron, you assemble an octet of mainstream instrumentation: trumpet, trombone, three saxophones, rhythm section. You get extraordinary musicians, with an emphasis on a great trumpet player just coming into the full flowering of his greatness -- Clifford Brown on Dameron's first Prestige album, Kenny Dorham on this one. And do what Dameron said was most important to him, and what he did so well: you make it beautiful.

All the tunes here are Dameron's compositions, as well they should be. He was one of the important composers of his era.

Let's start with "Fontainebleau." How do you make a new modern jazz sound with an octet? Well, you can start by not worrying all that much about whether it's modern. "Fontainebleu" is a beautifyl melody that became a tone poem in the hands of Benny Goodman, and (with lyrics by Milt Gabler), a bouncy ballad (with no crying) for Johnnie Ray. In Dameron's own version, it has beauty enough to melt the heart of a romantic, and innovation enough to get the blood of a modernist racing. It's mostly ensemble work, with the ensemble voices doing counterpoint, call-and-response, and fascinating rhythmic shifts. Most of all, they keep it melodic. And I love the closing riffs.

"Delirium" is wilder, with a lot of back and forth between the horns, leading into some powerful solos, particularly by Dorham. It's a great change of pace from the first cut. There are so many tunes named "Delirium" I can't really track the discography for this one.

"The Scene Is Clean" gives Dameron his first extended solo space, and he turns it into what feels like a succession of different solos, each of them remarkable, one of them a dialog with bassist John Simmons. Simmons and drummer Shadow Wilson are both mostly associated with pre-bopmusicians. Simmons played with Teddy Wilson, Nat "King" Cole, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong among others. Wilson was a swing-to-bop guy, playing with  Lucky Millinder, Benny Carter, Tiny Bradshaw, Lionel Hampton, Earl Hines, Count Basie, and Woody Herman, and later with Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods.

Dameron was certainly a modernist, one of the great composers of the bebop era, but for this session his choice of two veterans could not have been better. This would be Wilson's second Prestige session within the week--he had backed up Earl Coleman as well..

"The Scene is Cleean" has been widely recorded: by Brown and Roach, by Kenny Barron, Zoot Sims, Ronnie Cuber, Joe Lovano, Archie Shepp and others.

"Flossie Lou" has the melody, the Dameron solo work, but more than anything Kenny Dorham. This was another that was most famously recorded by Clifford Brown and Max Roach.

"Bula Beige" has all of the above, and with 11-plus minute to work with, it has even more of the above, and some great ensemble and solo work from the entire horn section. "Bula-Beige" is another Dameron tune that was picked up by a great pre-modernist, in this case Jimmy Dorsey.

Speaking of the horn section, the one who recorded the least, but was certainly not least in talent, was Joe Alexander. He was another one of those guys who mostly eschewed the big recording centers of New York and LA, but he became a legend in his adopted home town of Cleveland--so much so that one tavern where he played regularly issued a challenge -- $500 to anyone who could outblow Joe Alexander.

Prestige issued this LP as Fontainebleau. It was also scheduled to be a New Jazz release under the title Dameronia, but somehow that never happened. Dameronia did become the title of a later reissue. The session, minus "Bula-Beige," also became part of an album entitled Gil Evans/Tadd Dameron--The Arranger's Touch, and these were two arrangers who were touched by the angels.

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