Monday, September 05, 2016

Listening to Prestige 205: Prestige All Stars

Two groups of Prestige All Stars in two days, with only Art Farmer in common--and, curiously, Ed Thigpen. Thigpen's only previous Prestige connection was three sessions with Gil Mellé--although, like another Mellé-to-Ammons handoff, George Duvivier, he would be making funk for earth people with the Prestige funkmaster Gene Ammons in the early Sixties. Were it not for the fact that Thigpen hadn't been on Mellé's session of the previous Friday at Rudy's, one might have guessed that maybe this session had been plotted there, because both Farmer and Hal McKusick were holdovers.

Perhaps "Prestige All Stars" wasn't the best marketing strategy, since this first album is virtually nowhere to be found. Nowhere online. You can buy it from Amazon for $189, which is really weird considering that this isn't even for the vinyl--it's for the CD! And weirder yet, when you consider that you can buy the Complete Kenny Burrell 1957-62, on four CDs, including all the tunes from this session, for $11.99. It's a great lineup, and I wish I could say more about it.

Farmer is back again the next day with a different lineup, this time All Star regular Donald Byrd and All Star newcomer Idrees Sulieman, who'd done Prestige sessions with Mal Waldron and Joe Holiday: Three trumpets! Well, why not? They'd done well with two trumpets on the first All Stars session.

And they do damn well with three, here.

There's an excellent documentary by Stevenson Patti about his attempt to organize a concert featuring three New Orleans piano legends, Tuts Washington, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint, titled after a quote from one of them, Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. And this is mostly true, due to the unlikelihood of there being more than one piano at any given venue. There are exceptions, of course. We presented Dave and Don Grusin together at Opus 40, with two grand pianos out on the sculpture. The pianos were provided by Yamaha, who told us afterwards that it was the hardest moving and setup job they had ever done. And Daffy and Donald Duck have a memorable piano duel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 

But it's much easier to get two or three players of a portable instrument together. J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding achieved their greatest success when they put two trombones together, and although two of the same instrument is not a rarity, it's a little rarer when both the instruments are trombones. Rarer is a group with four of the same instrument, but the World Saxophone Quartet put four saxes together. Even rarer is a group with six of the same instrument, and perhaps even rarer than that is a group composed of multiple tubas, so a rarity of rarities would be Howard Johnson's group Gravity -- six tubas and a rhythm section.

And of course, there was a time when this none of this was at all unusual--the big band era, with its horn sections. And one of those horn sections became particularly famous--Woody Herman's Four Brothers, who would go on to record in a small group setting for Prestige as Five Brothers: Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Alan Eager and Brew Moore.

More commonly, in a small group, you'll have representatives from different instrumental families, just as the balanced dinner (in those days) contained representatives of the Four Major Food Groups. Perhaps this was because the archetypal, legendary (even though it was real) bebop ensemble featured Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Perhaps it was because for the casual listener, with two or three different instruments as the front line, it was easier to tell who was playing at any given time. Scott Yanow, in his review of the Five Brothers session, admits that with five young Lester Young acolytes, it's hard to tell who's playing what.

Ira Gitler, in his liner notes to many Prestige albums, would list the order of soloists on every cut, and while this may have been a source of mild ridicule for jazz adepts, it was very useful for the casual fan striving to become more than a casual fan.

But I would think a session such as this one must have been very rewarding for the players: three guys using the same tool but finding individual approaches to improvised music, and all starting from the same melody--in this case, original compositions from each of them. And while I am one of those who really can't tell who's playing what part, I can certainly appreciate how one trumpet follows another, with a new approach, a new tonality, These three musicians are pushing and inspiring each other in a way that is perhaps unique to the situation of three or more soloing on the same instrument.

They share the composing chores too, with Sulieman contributing two tunes ("Palm Court Alley," with its opening Charlie Parker lick, and "Forty Quarters"), Farmer ("Who's Who") and Byrd ("You Gotta Dig It to Dig It") one each.
The Prestige cover, and the British Esquire label cover. From the
London Jazz Collector: "Uniquely among US overseas releases, Esquire
Records were pressed in the UK with original US supplied stampers and
not re-mastered locally, so are sonically the same as Prestige,  in most
cases showing van Gelder stamp and originating US matrix and
plant codes. What differs are the alternative covers, a mixture of quirky
native whimsy, kitsch graphics, alternative duotone colourings, and line-
drawings based on the originals: sometimes you can see the original
as inspiration, while others clearly start with different cultural reference
points, the denizens of London’s smoke-filled Soho clubs and  52nd Street
New York, two jazz-loving  communities separated by only  approximately
 the same language. Potayto, pottato. That is one of the things that
make Esquire covers so intriguiging.

The fifth number, "Diffusion of Beauty," was written by Hod O'Brien, who was a newcomer to the Prestige orbit, and did not remain in it for long--I think this is his only Prestige recording. O'Brien is one of those guys who successfully balanced dual careers. After playing with Oscar Pettiford, J. R. Monterose and others in the 50s and early 60s, he got a degree in psychology and mathematics from Columbia, and worked in statistical research in psychology at NYU. "Diffusion of Beauty" is the only composition from this session that has been recorded by others.

The album was released as Prestige All-Stars:Three Trumpets, with the names of the three--and only the three--prominently featured on both the American and British covers.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.


Anonymous said...

How about fives? There's The Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, the Four Freshmen and Five Saxes, etc. As to fours, when I was a kid in the 40s, my mother had a couple of 78 RPM albums by The First Piano Quartet, a group of classical pianists playing Chopin Etudes, sonatas by various composers, etc. And to take the supernumerary to its logically ridiculous conclusion, there are "76 Trombones."
Pax et Musica,
Bob B.

Tad Richards said...

But 76 trombones is a big band, so I had that covered.

Tad Richards said...

But 76 trombones is a big band, so I had that covered.