Saturday, August 20, 2016

Listening to Prestige 199: The Prestige All-Stars

This is the familiar -- and magnificent -- core of the Prestige All-Stars, with two new additions, and what a difference they make! The veterans are Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, and the rhythm section of Mal Waldron, Doug Watkins and Art Taylor. The new additions are Jerome Richardson and Kenny Burrell, and with them, Prestige takes a step forward into what will become the jazz sound of the Sixties.

A lot of this has to do with the instrumentation. Richardson was proficient on pretty much anything that could be played with a reed, and a few instruments that couldn't. On this album he doubles on flute and tenor sax, but it's the flute that really stands out.

These aren't the first instance of flute and guitar playing a major role on a Prestige recording session. Herbie Mann, Sam Most and Bobby Jaspar all recorded for Prestige. The label's most prominent guitarist was probably Jimmy Raney, who recorded with his own group, and played with Bob Brookmeyer and Teddy Charles (and who would later do an album with Kenny Burrell for Prestige). Billy Bauer also contributed some memorable sessions with Lee Konitz.

But this is different, and different all around. The instrumentation makes it different, but that's not all. It's a sound that's really looking toward the future. That future would be irrevocably ushered in the following year, with a recording made in 1949, but buried by Capitol Records until it finally got its LP release in 1957: the Miles Davis nonet's Birth of the Cool.

This session still has all the passionate heat of bop, but the flute is an instrument that lends itself to the cool sound, and jazz is forever evolving. It's interesting that this session was recorded under the Prestige All-Stars banner, but fitting. The Prestige veterans were not standing still, either. Donald Byd in particular, was still at the cusp of a career that would see him in more than one vanguard.

The opening salvo of "All Night Long" is by Art Taylor, and creates a different rhythmic pattern from any we've heard before, which leads right into a Kenny Burrell solo, followed by Richardson on flute. By this time, we're well into the LP era, and long cuts are common, but "All Night Long" is long even by 1956 standards, checking at 17:11, and giving all the All-Stars plenty of room to develop. Which they do. Every solo on it is wonderful. Burrell and Richardson stand out, but it's hard to take the record off without marveling at Mal Waldron's solo.

"All Night Long" is a Burrell original, and Burrell was hitting the scene hard. He was born and raised
in the jazz hotbed of Detroit, and went to college there, at Wayne State, where he studied music composition and theory, and founded an organization called the New World Music Society, which included fellow Detroiters Pepper Adams, Yusef Lateef, Donald Byrd and Elvin Jones.

He graduated in 1955 and joined the Oscar Peterson Trio, a gig for which his early admiration for guitarist Oscar Moore of the Nat "King" Cole Trio and Johnny Moore's Three Blazers had well prepared him.

He then headed for New York where his reputation preceded him. As well it might have. As a 19-year-old, he had already recorded with a group including Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane in Detroit, but had resisted the invitation to tour with Dizzy. opting for college and music theory. He hit New York right after graduation, and not only did he find work right away, he found a leader's role right away, recording three albums under his own name for Blue Note (one of his later Blue Note albums, Midnight Blue, was such a favorite of Alfred Lion's that it was one of the albums he was buried with). He also joined the house band at Minton's Playhouse (Minton's is best known as the birthplace of bebop in the 1940s, but it continued to be a jazz proving ground through the 50sand 60s), which was led at the time by Jerome Richardson.

The first Blue Note album featured all original Burrell compositions, showing that those years at Wayne State paid off.

The rest of this album is given over to two other world class composers, Mal Waldron and Hank Mobley. I particularly loved "Boo-Lu" and the irresistible riff it's built around. One (or two) more numbers were included on the session, but not on the album. One or two because on the session notes, they're listed as a medley: "Body and Soul" and "Tune Up." Which is a cool and unusual medley -- a standard from the Great American Songbook and a jazz standard by Miles Davis. But when they were included as bonus tracks on a CD release of the album, they became separate tunes. "Body and Soul" was also released as part of a compilation album of various artists doing the Eyton/Green/Heyman/Sour composition, on the Prestige subsidiary label Status, which the invaluable  London Jazz Collector describes as:

Difficult to see what was budget apart from saving on ink, providing minimal information saved nothing, but made it look budget. Working in Marketing in the Seventies, the big fear was always “cannibalisation”. You wanted all the sales you could get at the premium price, and extra sales at the budget price, without losing the one to the other. Extra effort was incurred to make things look less attractive. More marketing genius from Weinstock.

The original release was called All Night Long and credited to the Prestige All-Stars, but then, when subsequent Burrell session became All Day Long, the Night version was rereleased as a Kenny Burrell album.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

No comments: