Thursday, December 29, 2016

Listing to Prestige 224: Prestige All Stars

It's four days later, and the Prestige All Stars are back in the studio, although the only thing this group has in common with the recent All Stars is Idrees Sulieman.

Well, there was one other commonality. Both of these sessions were stuck on the shelf and not released till 1959, and then on the New Jazz label.

What was New Jazz, exactly? It had been Bob Weinstock's original name for his label, but that was very soon changed to Prestige, perhaps because Weinstock was not one hundred percent sure he'd be devoting his label to new jazz. And he did record a few blues and R&B musicians like Brownie McGhee and H-Bomb Ferguson--even King Pleasure was first recorded with a rhythm and blues band and marketed as R&B. And old jazz, like Jimmy McPartland. Later, Weinstock would create subsidiary labels like Bluesville and the short-lived Par Presentation for non-modern jazz recordings. But he also revived New Jazz, and it's not clear why.

Partly, it may have been his version of a budget label. Budget labels were an interesting business back then. An LP record sold for $4.98, but you could also buy, mostly at places like Woolworth's, LP's for $1.98. Some of these were knockoffs of popular groups--Meet the Beetles! And some were labels like Pickwick, that leased music that had gone out of print from major labels. Some were subsidiaries of the majors themselves, like RCA's Camden. Elvis Presley, his sales declining and his star waning, had a lot of his material repackaged on Camden, and even leased to Pickwick, when Elvis repackaged himself by dying, and thus reattaining superstardom. A lot of the budget labels had inferior pressing and labeling.

But if New Jazz was a budget label, it wouldn't have done much for your budget. Contemporary catalogs have the list price at $3.98, which meant you wouldn't even save enough to buy a budget reissue of old Red Callender swing, repackaged as Rock and Roll, or Tom Lehrer's Songs Recorded by Jack Eljan.

And it wasn't entirely a repackaging enterprise, either. Some albums
were released on both Prestige and New Jazz, with the same cover art and liner notes. And some recordings, like these two All Star sessions, were New Jazz originals. The straight-to-New Jazz sessions seem to have been ones that Weinstock didn't see much commercial potential in: less distribution, less marketing.

But this doesn't make a lot of sense, either. There's no reason to think that a session with Teddy Charles, Idrees Sulieman and Mal Waldron would be a loser, or that Weinstock would want to bury it, especially since he and Charles were pals. But there is absolutely no reason to think that a session with John Coltrane would be an underperformer. By 1957, Coltrane was already a star. And it gets worse, which is to say, more unlikely. The session wasn't actually released until 1959, when Trane was becoming a huge star. He had already decamped for Atlantic, and had recorded Giant Steps.

Regardless, this was a terrific album, with Tommy Flanagan taking over the piano and composing reins from Mal Waldron, and bringing, among others, a tune he had recorded a month earlier.

The March version of "Solacium" featured Bobby Jaspar and Eddie Costa. Here flute and vibes are replaced by trumpet, tenor sax and guitar, and yet the tune is instantly familiar, even to me, who has a tough time remembering any tune he didn't first hear when he was under 21. Coltrane et. al. work it out for nearly twice the length of Jaspar and Costa, beginning with Burrell, leading up to a particularly powerful solo by Sulieman that's then taken to even greater heights by Coltrane,, then Burrell again, building on what's come before.

The other Flanagan originals are "Tommy's Time," "Minor Mishap" and "Eclypso." If you tuned into the last named expecting to hear a calypso, swallow your disappointment. Coltrane will be back tomorrow (literally; he recorded on both March 18 and 19) with a different cast and a real calypso. In the meantime, no need for disappointment. This Eclypso is eclipsed by nothing.

Logged in as a Prestige All Stars session, it was released (on New Jazz, in 1959} as The Cats, by Tommy Flanagan/John Coltrane/Kenny Burrell, and it managed to stay sufficiently obscure that a later Coltrane/Burrell album is often credited as the only time Trane recorded with a guitarist.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

No comments: