Friday, December 02, 2016

Listening to Prestige 216: Herbie Mann - Bobby Jaspar

The two March Bobby Jaspar sessions, the first a quintet with Eddie Costa on vibes, the second a partnership, the second a partnership with Herbie Mann (guitarist Joe Puma making it a sextet), were mixed and matched and released on two albums, Flute Flight and Flute Soufflé.

Of the two, Flute Flight is the one I remember as an iconic album of the era, Flute Soufflé less well known. The cover art from Flight triggers a memory, but I'm fairly certain I'm seeing the cover art from Soufflé for the first time.

And that recollection gets support from the accounting of the modern world. Amazon lists Flight as number 9000-something on its sales chart, Soufflé down in the mid-13000s.

Herbie Mann was the marquee performer. He would go on to have one of the most commercially successful careers in modern jazz (his Memphis Underground is one of the top selling jazz albums of all time, and a single, "Hijack," spent three weeks at Number One on the Billboard dance chart in 1975), while retaining his artistic cred (a website devoted to the 100 greatest jazz flutists rates him at #2 behind Eric Dolphy (Bobby Jaspar is #36, which is probably a little low. If he'd lived longer, and recorded more, this would be a different story).

So Flute Flight is the album on which Bobby Jaspar's American reputation mostly rests, and it is actually mostly his album, with all of the quintet numbers plus two from this session.

This may partly reflect the fact that the quintet session was a little short for a full album (20 miinutes of music, and they weren't doing 10-inchers then), but I'm guessing it was mostly a marketing decision. Move a couple of tracks from the Herbie Mann session over, and you can put his name on both albums. Not really a bait and switch. Jazz fans are notoriously well-informed consumers, and they'd rarely buy an album without checking all the players on every cut. And in any case, no need to feel shortchanged by the music. It's all good.

It's also all flute, at least from the two leaders, which further cemented Jaspar's reputation as a flutist, although in Europe he was known more for his work on the tenor sax. Soufflé, on the other hand, mixes up the instruments more. Which I'll get to, as we actually start to focus on this session.

They say that Chuck Berry never had to tour with a band, because there was no city he could go to,
anywhere in the world, where he couldn't find musicians who knew all his songs. For two jazz musicians in the Fifties, the same could be said for Charlie Parker tunes, so what better way for a Belgian and a Brooklyn hipster (a real Brooklyn hipster, not the kind who make fake gourmet chocolate) to get to know each other? The first cut on this session is Parker's "Chasin' the Bird," and it's a great ice-breaker. They make their mutual introductions on the flute, and Bird provides a rich source for interpretation, so the two flute voices are distinctive and complementary. And so are the other voices on the session.

"Bo-Do" is two flutes again, but perhaps the star turn on this Joe Puma composition is Puma himself, on guitar--and as a composer. The tune is riff-driven but very substantial, and there are great solos by Tommy Flanagan and Wendell Marshall. Puma only did one other session for Prestige, but he had a long and distinguished career in jazz, still active until shortly before his death in 2000. During the mid-50s, he and Herbie Mann worked together often.

"Somewhere Else" is a Puma composition again, another good one, this time a showcase for four solo instruments, played by two guys. First Mann on tenor, then Jaspar on flute, and after an interval in the middle by Puma, back to Mann on flute and finally a strong Jaspar on tenor.

Back to the flutes for "Let's March," a Mann composition that starts out with Bobby Donaldson demonstrating that the march has come a long way since Sousa, followed by Mann showing that it's come even farther than you might think, when it's overlaid with the intricate runs and rhythms of bebop. This is a cool piece for both flutes, but maybe even better for Puma, who burns through his solo, and then we close with the two flutes and the drummer marching out.

"Tel Aviv" is the centerpiece of the session, a beautiful pensive melody by Herbie Mann showcasing Jaspar on tenor sax. It's 15 minutes long, and gives everyone a place in the limelight, but it's Jaspar you really carry away.

They finish up the session with another Mann composition, "Tutti Flutie," which may well have been thrown together on the spot, one of Rudy Van Gelder's "five o'clock blues." It stretches out for ten minutes, which makes enough music to fill out two albums, it's fun and tuneful and bluesy and gives everyone room for some great solos. I was especially taken by Tommy Flanagan and Wendell Marshall. And the fluties are tutti -- no saxes here.

This meant it could go on the all-flute album, Flute Flight, along with "Bo-Do." The others are all on Flute Soufflé. 

"Let's March" was also released on a two-sided 45, which suggests that Weinstock may have sensed Mann's hitmaking potential early. "Tutti Flutie" also became a 45 later on -- much later on, I would guess. "Let's March" is in the 100 series, "Tutti Flutie" in the 400 series. I can't exactly figure out Prestige's 400 series of 45s. They're not in any chronological sequence -- the MJQ's "Django" and "Moody's Mood for Love" come next. So these maybe come late in the game, when Prestige was moving toward mosty repackaging and reissuing, or even after the sale to Fantasy.

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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