Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Listening to Prestige 227: Prestige All Stars

This session became best known as a John Coltrane gig when it was rereleased in 1963 under his name, but its original incarnation was a little weirder. Its weirdness doesn't have so much to do with its instrumentation -- a tenor and two baritones -- which is a tremendously effective combination, as it turns out. Nor with the leaders du jour. Kenny Berger in says that this was really a Pepper Adams date, and the producer (and principal composer) was Teddy Charles. Both were important jaz figures who deserved leader status, and Coltrane played on a lot of gigs in those days.

No, the weirdness lay in the way it was released: as part of what would now be called a double album, but was for a short time in the mid-fifties one LP disc, made to be played at half the speed of a regular 33 1/3 album -- the 16 2/3 RPM LP  The format never really caught on. It was OK for spoken word recordings, but not great for music. It was also utilized for one of the dumbest innovations in portable music: Highway Hi-Fi, a turntable, supposedly shock and skip-proof, included in Chrysler autos from 1956 to 1959. They never worked very well, and after their demise mobile music lovers had to wait till the mid-60s,and the battle between 8-track and cassette tapes -- and we know how that worked out.

Teddy Charles produced two sessions for this mega-LP, this one with the two baritones and Coltrane, the second with two French horns plus a trombone (Curtis Fuller) and an alto (Sahib Shihab), and the whole package was released as Modern Jazz Survey: Baritones and French Horns, with the wielders of the eponymous instruments getting top billing on the cover.

The Teddy Charles compositions are "Dakar" and "Route 4," both of which have entered into the jazz repertoire. They're both great tunes, with "Dakar" being maybe the highlight of the album, if you have to pick one. I love the way the saxophones work with each other on this one. "Route 4," interestingly, seems to have the more Middle Eastern feel of the two.

 "Catwalk" (on the album cover, "The Cat Walk" on the session notes) is attributed, depending on where you look, to Charles or Mal Waldron. There are actually several jazz compositions called "Catwalk," and most of them seem to have the alternate title of "The Cat Walk." I'd kinda guess that it's Charles, but I'm no expert. It's in fragmented, short phrases which seem more Charlesian, and it doesn't have the extended Waldron solo that one expects in his compositions, though his solo is terrific and really captures the essence of the composition.

"Velvet Scene" is unequivocally by Waldron, though it doesn't feature a Waldron solo at all.  It's a ballad, with some beautiful work by Coltrane.

The last two tunes are by Pepper Adams, himself a pretty major jazz composer. He's credited with 43 tunes. Gary Carner, the creator of the website The Complete Works of Pepper Adams, provides this particularly winsome bit of scholarship:
Adams’ oeuvre can be loosely grouped into the following categories: Swingers (18), Blues (7), Ballads (7), Latin (5), Waltzes (3), and Rhythm Changes (3).
I guess "Mary's Blues" is a blues, though it could be a ballad. Either way, it's beautiful. And "Witches Pit"? A blues? A swinger? I'd call it a bebop blues, and as rockabilly legend Carl Perkins once put it, "All my friends are boppin' the blues, so it must be goin' round."

Strangely enough, this collection of interesting instruments never made it, as a unit, to any other form except 16 2/3 RPM. The Adams-Coltrane-Payne sides became the John Coltrane album Dakar, and "Dakar" was definitely the hit tune from the day. It was included on the compilation album Prestige Groovy Goodies, Vol. 2. Yes, I know even one album called Groovy Goodies is one too many for a hip jazz label, but this was the Sixties. "Dakar" was also released on 45 b/w "The Believer," a McCoy Tyner composition off a later album, in what must have been severely truncated versions of both, especially "The Believer," which clocked in at over 13 minutes and took up the whole side of an LP

 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here.

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