Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Listening to Prestige 211: Art Taylor's All Stars

This is not in any particular way noticeably different from a Prestige All Stars session. And it features Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean, both of whom have been leaders on previous Prestige recordings. So why is it Art Taylor's All Stars? Taylor ha been on a bunch of Prestige sessions -- a couple of dozen in all, led by such as Jackie McLean, Gene Ammons, Red Garland, Hank Mobley not to mention the various Prestige All Stars sessions.

So what makes this an Art Taylor session? More drum solos? There are some terrific ones.

Does it have a unique sound, something Taylor heard in his head and wanted to bring to fruition in a session that he directed? To these amateur ears, maybe yes. There's a quality...what's the opposite of strident? Mellow? It's anything but that. It has the urgency of the best jazz, especially given that it's propelled by Taylor's drumming. But there's a fullness and rightness to the sound. The fullness of course is helped by having three horns, but it's there in the solos, too.

Charlie Rouse is not entirely new to Prestige--he had done a couple of Bennie Green sessions and one with Gene Ammons. He was still a couple of years away from his most famous collaboration, the one with Thelonious Monk. He is one of relatively  few jazz musicians to have an asteroid named after him (asteroid 10426 was officially named Charlierouse by American astronomer Joe Montani of Spacewatch, who discovered it in 1999)  He is, however, not the only one --- Montani also named an asteroid after Monk. And Montani's cultural/astronomical reach is even more eclectic. He has named asteroids after Allen Ginsberg and Erik Satie.

Wendell Marshall had only one previous session on Prestige, backing up Earl Coleman, but he did not lack for work. After leaving Duke Ellington in 1955, he was featured on over 150 sessions up until about 1963, when he opted for steady employment as a Broadway pit musician--and eventually an even steadier life, as he returned to his native St. Louis and ran his own insurance business. If he had any business acumen, he probably didn't insure a lot of jazz musicians.

Ray Bryant was a good choice for a session led by a drummer. His rhythmic style was grounded in the blues and gospel and traditional jazz, opened up by bebop, and nourished by his continued exploration of all styles. During this period, he would often sit in with the trad guys at the Metropole in the afternoon, then go down to the Five Spot at night to play with Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller. A musical stretch? Bryant didn't think so: "A C chord is a C chord no matter where you find it. I never made a conscious effort to play differently with anyone."

And that rhythmic sureness and brilliance, combined with that sound for all seasons, translated into some hit records, including his own version of "Cubano Chant," "Little Susie,"  and his biggest hit, "Madison Time."

Taylor called upon the work of a couple of the finest composers in jazz for this session. There are two compositions by Gigi Gryce (as Lee Sears) and two by Monk. But if I were planning on issuing a single from this album, looking for a jukebox hit, I would definitely have gone with Bryant's "Cubano Chant." It's a great tune, catchy and meaty. And it's been recorded by artists as disparate as Harry James and Art Blakey, not to mention such Latin greats as Gato Barbieri, Mongo Santamaria and Cal Tjader (the only Swedish Latin bandleader). And a more contemporary version by Steely Dan. Here it has the great hooks that characterize the melody, some powerful solo work, and Taylor all the way through it, pushing and shaping it.

There were no singles from the album, which was released as Taylor's Wailers, including everything from this session and one cut from a later session with John Coltrane.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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