With jazz reissues flying fast and furiously across America'a store counters, it is easy to overlook much of the questionable product and settle for the blue chippers. There's nothing wrong with this philosophy except that some excellent efforts slip by unnoticed and are often lost to the general public unless a "stop sign" is posted. Consider yourselves accordingtly signaled.
The reason for this warning are five reissued records on the Barnaby/Candid Jazz label, distributed by Janus, whose previous major contribution was Al Stewart's rock album, "Year of the Cat." Now, however, Janus has entered the jazz market with a vengeance. These five releases are influential and remarkably well-recorded.
It's not hard to understand why many prospective buyers might pass up the entire set. All the jackets look like Bert Kaempfert clones and the record logo, "Candid" stamped in bold white caps, is not a grabber.
However, it's not the packaging that counts, but the music - and these sessions are as good an example of post-bop transitional periods (as well as superbly listenable music) as any on the market.
Of the five discs, two features well-known artist: "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus" (Barnaby/Candid-BR 5012) and Booker Little's "Out Front" (Barnaby/Candid-BR 2019), which also includes Eric Dolphy, Julian Priester, Max Roach and Ron Carter. Somewhat surprisingly, neither is the most melodic or the most interesting. Those accolades go to "New Horn in Town" by Richard Williams (Barnaby/Candid-BR 5014) and "The Toshiko Mariano Quartet" (Barnaby/Candid-BR 5017). "The Straight Horn of Steve LAcy" (Barnaby/Candid-BR 5013) falls somewhere in the middle, but provides a fine example of soprano saxophone playing - not the most readily available mode.
Most exciting about the Mariano effort is the remarkable development shown by alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano and his pianist wife. The quartet (Gene Cherico on bass and drummer Eddie Marshall plus the Marianos) fly through compositions like "Little T" with polymodal runs and stop-and-start percussiveness basec in Charlie Parker but individually tempered.
Trumpeter Richard Williams plays like Harry James on ballads like "Over the Rainbow" and "I Remember Clifford" (with hints of Clifford Brown plainly in evidence as well) and bops on more pointed tunes like "Raucous Notes."
The result is mixed styles, all highlighted by the clean sound of Williams' horn and solid rhythm support from veteran bassist Reginald Workman and drummer Bobby Thomas. Richard Wyands' piano gently caresses Williams' runs during the solo in "Over the Rainbow" and, though this album is more traditional than the others in the set, it is also the most sensitive.
Steve Lacy is among the original free-form musicians and the work on "The Straight Horn," especially that of drummer Roy Haynes, leads to stirring interpretations of compositions by Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Lacy worked with Taylor and Monk (as well as Gil Evans), and his association with these revolutionaries - as well as the influence of legendary soprano player Sidney Bechet - allows lyric freedom within melodic framework.
Mingus and Little are cought in experimental phases. Mingus' band is a Jazz Workshop all-star team: Eric Dolphy, Ted Curson and Dannie Richmond (now back as Mingus' drummer 18 years after the initial release of this album). The music here is extraordinarily original in its compositional makeup and roaming structures, but is not especially accessible to the casual listener. Yet, the song serves as a primary example of Mingus' enormous influence on his players (most notably trumpeter Curson) and on the freer patterns that emerged years later.
Booker Little died shortly after "Out Front" was recorded, so this work stands as the 23-year-old's epitaph. Little seems equally comfortable trading lucid runs with Eric Dolphy (who died several months after Little) and blurting out tense bursts ignited by Max Roach's percussion. the primary focus, though, is not so much on Little's playing but his writing talent.
All the releases in Barnaby/Candid series contain the original liner notes by Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff and current updates to help place the material (printed and played) in its proper historical context.
Context or no, tacky covers and blatant logos aside, these albums present important, exciting music - old jazz deserving new attention.