Saturday, July 16, 2016

Listening to Prestige 194: Art Farmer

This album was recorded in late November of 1956, but it appears not to have been released until 1959, not unlike some of Farmer's other early Prestige sessions, which languished on the back shelves even longer, which may have been one of the reasons why Farmer would soon leave the label.

 Farmer was very active for Prestige during this period. Like many of the young artists who had toured Europe with Lionel Hampton in 1953, he had returned with a burnished reputation and a number of closely forged musical relationships, two of the foremost being Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce--his first session as leader, in 1953, was released as Art Farmer Plays the Arrangements and Compositions of Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce, An early 1954 session featuring Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver wasn't actually released until 1962, and it's hard to figure out why (a quartet session from 1955 was also shelved until this release, as Early Art). Next he was reunited with Gigi Gryce for the album titled When Farmer Met Gryce, although this was scarcely a first meeting.

In 1955 he recorded with a septet, an augmented small group (or truncated big band) situation that Farmer thrived in, then with Gryce again, and with Donald Byrd (released as 2 Trumpets). He would also record as a sideman --with Gene Ammons a couple of times, backing up singer Earl Coleman (Gryce was on that session too), with Bennie Green, and with Gil Melle, and if that's not range, I don't know what is.

This session is part quintet (with Hank Mobley), and part quartet. Gigi Gryce is present again, but only as composer: the beautiful "Reminiscing," one of the quartet pieces, which affords Farmer the space for some marvelously lyrical ballad work, and does the same for Kenny Drew.

Drew is also represented with two originals on the session, which is pretty much a showcase for some of the best young composers of the era, as Farmer also weighs in with a tune--in his case, one that was already on its way to becoming a classic: "Farmer's Market." This is a very different treatment than the one Farmer gave it with Wardell Gray in his recording debut, and while it features some outstanding work by Farmer and Hank Mobley (who also contributed an original), Drew takes the first solo, and he's the one you walk away remembering most vividly.

Elvin Jones was just beginning to make his mark. He had recorded once in 1948, as part of the legendary Blue Bird Inn house band in Detroit, but his first New York recording had been in 1955, on a Miles Davis session for Charles Mingus's Debut label. He would make several contributions to Prestige and New Jazz over the next couple of years, before taking his music in a different direction and becoming one of the most important drummers of the 1960s and 70s.

In spite of the fact that one of Drew's compositions is "With Prestige," this turns out not quite to have been with Prestige. The label had come into existence, a decade earlier, as New Jazz, and in 1958, Bob Weinstock decided to revive the New Jazz label as a subsidiary (there would be a handful of other subsidiaries launched around the same time). Farmer's Market would be the third New Jazz release, following a Mal Waldron album and a Prestige All-Stars session which Farmer was not a part of. It's hard to exactly make sense of New Jazz. Maybe Weinstock was recording artists faster than he could release them? The Waldron album (Mal-3) seems to have been released fairly promptly, and may have been recorded with this new imprint in mind, but the next several were sessions that had been on the shelf for a couple of years. Anyway, the good news is, they did see the light of day, and we have this music now.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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