Friday, May 06, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 183: Gil Melle

Art Farmer shows up for an afternoon with the usual Fridays at Rudy's gang to find...


Yes, this is a different sort of Friday. And you have to wonder if this is exactly what Gil Melle was expecting, for that matter, from the name hung on the ensemble. Here's the quartet, and what exactly are we going to do with these other guys?

He probably wasn't taken by surprise. Art Farmer may have been a Rudy's regular, but Julius Watkins and Hal McKusick weren't. In any case, whether he came prepared or had to arrange on the fly, he came up with some interesting arrangements, particularly on "Block Island."

As a baritone sax player, Gil Melle was no Gerry Mulligan. If anything, he was Mulligan's renegade stepbrother. He was probably more interested in the tonal qualities of the baritone sax than he was in improvisation. So how is it that the arrangement on "Block Island" sounds so much like Mulligan? Or the bizarro Mulligan. Or Mulligan's evil twin.

All the musicians on this session are good. One of the things we have Melle to thank for, in addition to The Andromeda Strain, would be giving Joe Cinderella a chance to be heard on one of the important jazz labels.

Vinnie Burke is the newcomer to Melle's quartet. Burke was a solid professional, a guitarist/violinist who had taken up the bass after mangling his little finger on the assembly line at a munitions factory. Through the 40s and 50s he played with a range of musicians, many of them, like Bucky Pizzarelli, the Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra and Marian McPartland, on the not so far out end of the scale. Of course, the same was true of Ed Thigpen, and both of them worked well with Melle. Burke's career would extend well into the 80s, and he could always get work.

Hal McKusick got his start with two bandleaders who were more forward-thinking than a lot of their 1940s dance band contemporaries, Boyd Raeburn and Claude Thornhill. They may have given him a taste for challenging assignments, because he went on to work with the likes of Gunther Schuller,
George Russell, Lee Konitz and John Coltrane. He also co-led a group with Bill Evans in 1958.

But the top soloist here is Farmer. Melle gives him his head, and he contributes some remarkable stuff.

These three cuts went onto an album called Gil's Guests, which also featured, in later sessions, Kenny Dorham, Don Butterfield and Zoot Sims.

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