Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 184: Red Garland

As far as I'm concerned, the music is the great legacy of this era, and everyone who played a part in the creating and presenting of it is a hero. Artists left Prestige for Columbia, and Atlantic, and Impulse, and other labels, because they got better deals, because of creative differences, because of reasons lost to history, and who really cares. The music was made, and recorded, and released, and it's there as long as people care about The American Century in music, and all its greatness.

Miles Davis needed a bigger stage--he was on his way to becoming a larger-than-life performer, the superstar that was evolving from the chrysalis of Prestige and taking wing as he shared top billing with Neil Young at the Fillmore in 1970 (captured in photos by Glen Craig). 

But if Miles was leaving Prestige, he was leaving a little of himself behind. In his May 11 session, he cut 14 tunes -- 10 of them with the quintet, three more with just himself and the rhythm section, and one--"Ahmad's Blues" -- in which he bowed out, and let Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor have center stage, as a way of auditioning the trio for Prestige, and it worked, Bob Weinstock signed them, and this is the first fruit of that signing.

The trio play eight songs, six of them standards from The Songbook. It's always interesting to hear jazz versions of these standards for any number of reasons, but certainly one is the fresh focus they give to the songs themselves. Lester Young said that whenever he played a standard, he always had the words in his mind, and certainly a listener is going to be mindful of a familiar lyric. (Well, most listeners. I had a friend who told me she loved the blues, but she never listened to the words. I said, "That's like loving Rubens, but not noticing the nudes." She said, "I do that too.")

So Garland starts off the set with "A Foggy Day," and it's not Fred Astaire's softly melancholy fog. Garland, with his hard-charging block chords, has his fog lights on, and he's not letting a little clammy low visibility stop him, or even slow him down.

"Makin' Whoopee" is a gleeful expression of arch cynicism, but Garland slows it down to an almost stately pace, and you have to listen to it for a bit before you start noticing that the dry archness is there, but subtly.

"September in the Rain" starts with an extended walking bass, which leads to a very brief piano solo, which leads to a bowed bass solo, and if you don't believe a bowed bass can walk, listen to this one. As a result, the head sort of isn't there. and we're really just walkin' in the rain.

The bowed bass solo is a frequent and welcome participant throughout this session. But if you really want to hear a bass solo, listen to "Blue Red," which opens with two and a half minutes of bass, walking, jumping and standing still. A tour de force, and when Garland comes in, you know that this is a blues played by someone who knows how to play the blues. The number also includes a Garland tour de force -- a repeated figure (repeated 16 times) of the sort that one associates more with the saxophone than the piano, and more with rhythm and blues than modern jazz, but since I refuse to recognize any clear line of demarcation between rhythm and blues and modern jazz, why not?

The other non-Songbook tune is a Charlie Parker composition, and it's another interesting departure. Garland's style is generally noted for block chords of the sort that I associated with Thelonious Monk, but on "Constellation" he turns to a nimble style more reminiscent of Bud Powell (whom Garland named as his chief influence). We also hear boppish overdrive on a bowed bass solo, and some nifty soloing by Art Taylor.

The session was appropriately album-length, and was released as A Garland of Red. "Blue Red" also came out as a two-sided 45; the original track, at nearly eight minutes, is a little long for even two sides of a single, so I wonder if they cut the bass intro.  "Makin' Whoopee" also came out on 45, but a few years later, as the B side of Garland's cover of Count Basie's theme music for the TV show M Squad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tad--There's a lot more of Paul Chambers's bass in C-Jam Blues from the Red garland Trio album, GROOVY. Good stuff.
Bob B.