Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Listening to Prestige 218: Prestige All Stars

All of the Prestige All Stars sessions lived up to their all star billling, but this one really does, and not just because it has John Coltrane on it. Coltrane was to become a jazz deity, but he was already jazz royalty. But the rest of the group is extraordinary, and their playing on this date lives up to their name recognition.  Webster Young, the new kid on the block, was invited to play on this date shortly after his debut album with Ray Draper. He talks about it in Benjamin Franklin V's Jazz and Blues Musicians of South Carolina:
About two weeks later, Mal Waldron called me and said, "I have a record date. I asked him who was on it and he said himself, John Coltrane--my knees began to sink--Idrees Sulieman, Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers and Arthur Taylor. These were heavyweights. Bobby Jaspar was there on tenor. I said, "OK."
On the morning of the date, I went over to see Miles, and he convinced me that I could do it...He showed me a few licks. He was living on Tenth Avenue, and I had to get to Prestige on 50th Street...
Me, Bobby Jaspar and Idrees Suleiman went out together. The other cats were already there...a Coltrane date had [already] been held there. Red Garland was there with his
John and Naima Coltrane
wife. Trane was there with his wife, Naima. It was Mal's date. He had written four tunes: "Interplay," which was "I Got Rhythm;" "Anatomy," which was "All the Things That You Are;" "Light Blue," which was a blues, and the tune that made the album, "Soul Eyes." I was nervous as hell, but I was determined. Everything that we did was one take. Between Coltrane and Bobby Jaspar, that was something. Bobby Jaspar was a good player, very good. He was tight with Idrees; he was a nice cat. I liked him and Trane. It was a hell of a date.

A hell of a date is right.  Young was focused on the horn players, and so left out Kenny Burrell, but he was another one of Prestige's rising all stars, and he contributes mightily as well. "Anatomy" goes straight from the head (which is a lot more than a riff: Waldron was a talented composer, and even if this is based on the ubiquitous chord changes, in this case "All the Things That You Are") to a guitar solo, to a bowed bass solo by Chambers, to a piano solo by Waldron, and they're all a lot more than interludes between the two trumpets and two saxophones.

The centerpiece here, Webster Young's "tune that made the album," is Waldron's classic "Soul Eyes." It's best known for the 1962 recording by Coltrane on Impulse, but it's become a standard, recorded by Stan Getz among others (and check out the recent vocal version by Kandace Springs). Coltrane's 1962 recording features his great quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, and distills the beauty of the composition into 5:27. This version lasts 17:29, one whole side of the LP, and gives ample opportunity for interplay between two trumpets, two tenors, a guitar and a rhythm section. If you know and love the Coltrane quartet version, listen to this one, too.

This is an amazing feat, when you think about it. Bob Weinstock, as we know, liked the impromptu feeling of a jam session. He's talked about the way he worked with Miles Davis--no regular group, just sit down and kick around ideas for a session. Who was in town, who Miles would like to play with. That resulted in some perspectives on Miles that we would not have had otherwise, and it's the same thing here with Coltrane, as you can tell if you listen to "Soul Eyes" with Coltrane's regular group, and with this pickup group, probably put together by Weinstock and Mal Waldron. Coltrane and Sulieman were veterans and most likely knew each other, but they had never recorded together. Nor had Coltrane and Waldron, although Waldron and Sulieman had done one previous session. Kenny Burrell was new in town. He'd worked with Paul Chambers, but that was about it. Bobby Jaspar was not only new in town, he was new to the country. Webster Young was still a kid whose knees started shaking when he heard he was to record with John Coltrane.

So you have these guys new to each other, playing charts they had almost certainly just received that day. Two of the melodies were based on chord changes they were familiar with, one was a blues. But the last one, the big one, was a new and subtle melody, and as they started playing the head, they must have known it was not going to be a three minute number for jukebox release (which it is, in the Kandace Springs recording), but they didn't necessarily know that it was going to go on for the better part of 20 minutes, and they'd have to keep improvising and keep on keeping it fresh. And, as we know from Webster Young's reminiscence, you were going to have to do it in one take.

And I don't know, but I'd guess if you were getting together with strangers on a 17 minute jam, it would be easier to sustain if you were playing something bouncy than a dreamy, subtle ballad. But that's what they do, and they do sustain it. I wouldn't subtract a minute.

If you're going to pull something like this off, it helps to have a musician of the caliber of John Coltrane at the center of it. And it helps to have the composer anchoring it, if that composer is Mal Waldron. It's always a special experience to hear Waldron soloing on one of this own compositions.

Listen to the way the musicians come in as the head gets restated at the end of the piece. It's unusual, maybe even haphazard. It wouldn't be that way if it had been rehearsed. And it's just about perfect. It's Prestige jazz.

The title of the album is Interplay for 2 Trumpets and 2 Tenors.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

No comments: