Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Listening to Prestige Part 185: Gil Melle

Gil Melle is back in Hackensack two Fridays later, once again trying the experiment of adding three horns to his quartet. The added personnel is a little different this time, perhaps because Art Farmer and Julius Watkins were tied up, perhaps because he still wanted to tinker with the septet sound. Certainly he seems to have had no problems with Farmer, because he brought him back for a 1957 session.

Hal McKusick is back, but Kenny Dorham has replaced Farmer, and Don Butterfield's tuba is in for Watkins's French horn. The result is weirder, and arguably better. Art Farmer brought his own brand of magic to the ensemble, and when he soloed, it became an Art Farmer session. And Lord knows, there's nothing wrong with that. But Kenny Dorham seems to grasp Melle's unique sensibility right away. McKusick has really learned it by this time, and the two of them move from ensemble parts to solos with a full grasp that this is going in a different direction: not a bebop session, or even a hard bop session. That perhaps it's more akin to something that doesn't exist yet: the electronic music that Melle will go on to create.

Don Butterfield for Julius Watkins, tuba for French horn, is an interesting choice, and an inspired one.
Melle had set a deep bottom with his baritone sax, but Butterworth goes deeper and fuller, and in his solos takes Melle's ideas even farther than Melle does.

Butterfield, by 1956, had made the transformation from classical orchestras (and the orchestrated cocktail music to which Jackie Gleason put his name, but not much of anything else) to jazz, and he became a solid part of the jazz scene throughout the 50s and 60s, with beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer and Jimmy Heath, with funksters like Jimmy Smith, with experimenters like Charles Mingus, Teddy Charles and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, with one-foot-in jazz composers like David Amram -- and I suppose Gil Melle could be included in that last category. In any event, his contribution to this album is inestimable.

All three compositions are unique. Each finds its own direction, and the musicians all find their way along each path. "Sixpence" has actually a sort of head-solo-solo-head structure, but it's not exactly your Uncle Charlie's head-solo-solo-head structure, nor do the musicians treat it as such.

This session completed the tracks for what became the Gil's Guests album. He would record one more album for Prestige, again in two separate sessions, one with guests and one without, and the session with guests was added to the later CD reissue.

Order Listening to Prestige Vol 1: 1949-1963 from Amazon.

No comments: