JAZZ RECORDS seems to be coming out at a pace approaching the speed of light. Much of the new product is either previously released material in new covers (usually from new companies) or old music finally made available to the public through complex legal maneuverings and distribution agreements.
One example of the latter product is a multi-record series of live jazz recently issued on the previously unrecognized Calliope label. It merits special attention because of the quality of the recordings, the diversity of jazz styles represented, and appearances by some rarely-heard performers.
SESSIONS, LIVE (Calliope CAL 3001 thru 3010) comprises ten individual records, each of which covers at least two artists. All of the albums were recorded between 1956 and 1958, not considered a particularly golden period, but obviously far from barren. In addition, the entire series was recorded live, either in concert or in one-take studio sessions before small audiences. The resulting efforts are remarkably consistent and each separate disc offers its own classic moments.
Possibly the most widely recognized player on Sessions, Live is Oscar Peterson, whoe trio (bassist Ray Brown, Herb Ellis on guitar, and Peterson) appear on two records (CAL 3001 and 3007). The first set, recorded in 1957, includes inspired versions of "Calico," "Time After Time," and "Seven Come Eleven." The other, done a year later, features a soulful rendition of Gershwin's "I Love You, Porgy" among its four selections.
In context with the Peterson trio's performances one hears some less familiar but noteworthy players. The '57 session highlights the Gerald Wiggins Quartet and vocalists Terry Morel and Jane Fielding; in 1958, it's lyric stylists Pat Healy and Jeri Southern and some exceptional walking bass work by Leroy Vinnegar playing with his own quartet.
The appeal of Sessions, Live is increased by its cataloguing of some jazz and swing-band singers relatively unfamiliar to the mass audience: Abbey Lincoln (CAL 3009), Connee Boswell and Jean Gale (CAL 3006), Ernestine Anderson and Chris Connor (CAL 3002), Toni Harper (CAL 3003), Jilla Webb fronting the Harry James Band and Laurie Johnson singing with Les Brown's aggregation (CAL 3005), Bobbie Lynn (CAL 3010), and Joe Williams with Count Basie's Orchestra (CAL 3006).
It isn't just singers who get a chance in the spothight. Pianist Pette Jolly plays accordion on three tracks with the Terry Gibbs Quartet, including a unique interpretaion of "Caravan" (CAL 3010) and respected but little-known Japanese drummer Paul Togawa gets three workouts with his quartet (CAL 3002). Finally, in the biggest surprise of the release, Andre Previn pumps a mean piano through a 1958 trio session that employs Red Mitchell on bass and drummer Shelly Manne, (CAL 3003).
Most of the music on "Sessions, Live" is post-era swing but the variety of players insures a broad range of styles and configurations.
There are trios (Peterson; Previn), quartets (Red Mitchell; Togawa; Vinnegar; Wiggins; Gibbs), quintets (Red Norvo; Buddy Collette), and a sextet (Jack Teagarden). There are big bands (Basie; Brown: James), dixieland bands (Firehouse Five Plus Two; Teddy Buckner and his Dixieland Band), and even a jazz harmonica player (Les Thompson). And, if you're still listening for more, Sessions, Live offers some familiar artists, like Cal Tjader and Art Blakey, under concert conditions.
The tonal reproduction on all of the albums is exceptionally clear and immediately dispels any fear of small-label sloppiness or the ever-present danger of inadequacy in the original tapes which sometimes plagues even the noblest intentions. Also, the liner notes by Jim Pewter are brief and informative and give both the novice and the afficionado a sharper perspective on the music and a more precise idea of where each artist fits into the historical jazz context.
Sessions, Live is an earful but there is no urgent need to buy ten records in one shot. Each individual recording has its own selling points and each is a welcome addition to the ever increasing jazz record archive.