Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Benny Golson - 1962 - Just Jazz!

Benny Golson 
1962 - 
Just Jazz!


01. Groovin' High 3:16
02. Moten Swing 4:14
03. Out Of Nowherre 4:12
04. Autumn Leaves 4:40
05. Donna Lee 2:44
06. Quicksilver 3:53
07. Stella By Starlight 4:21
08. Ornithology 3:43
09. If I Should Lose You 3:00
10. Walkin' 3:37

Alto Saxophone – Eric Dolphy
Bass – Ron Carter
Drums – Charlie Persip, Jimmy Cobb (tracks: B5)
Piano – Bill Evans
Tenor Saxophone – Wayne Shorter
Trombone – Bill Hardman, Curtis Fuller, Grachen Moncur
Trumpet – Freddy Hubbard

Recorded in the early days of stereo experimentation, the bonus album was first issued as "Triple Play Stereo: Pop + Jazz = Swing", featuring the jazz group on the right channel, and a pop group playing the same song or a related tune on the left channel.


Many jazz fans have probably searched for this long out of print (except for a lousy bootleg CD reissued by Fresh Sound) record by Benny Golson because of the promising list of musicians present: Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, and Curtis Fuller, among others. But the disappointing fact is that these sessions have a rather tortured history. Initially after these small-group sessions were taped (not all of the musicians are on every track), an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings, playing the chord changes of the pieces on which each of the jazz compositions was based. This LP, Pop + Jazz = Swing on the Audiofidelity label, was evidently a total flop. Some time following Eric Dolphy's death in 1964, the original masters, minus the overdubbed pop orchestra, were released as Just Jazz! There are still several problems with this later issue. Golson's arrangements are rather conservative and stiff, with the rhythm section proving to be rather stifled; neither are many of the individual solos very risk-taking. Only Dolphy's alto sax solo on "If I Should Lose You" has stood the test of time very well. Another major annoyance is that the horns frequently seem to have too much reverb added, making it sound as if they were recorded out in a hall away from the rhythm section and then mixed in later. The lack of attention to the packaging of the album includes a very boring front cover, misspelled names of musicians, an incorrect or incomplete list of composers, and, finally, "Groovin' High" and "Quicksilver" have their titles swapped. Collectors will, no doubt, still seek out this LP in spite of its flaws, but at least they have been forewarned before paying a premium price for it.

When I first encountered this record, in 2011, my eyes popped out on stalks. Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers … all the young lions out to play.  Couldn’t see Benny Golson listed , because he doesn’t play, he conducts and arranges. Golson was a fine driving tenor in the Art Blakey line up, his work in Blakey’s Moanin‘ is outstanding, as with The Jazztet, and his long list of compositions includes many distinctive memorable tunes (Whisper Not, Killer Joe, Stablemates) . How could it fail?

Whereas George Russell took great risks with tunes, turned them inside out, re-arranged them, Golson is determinedly mainstream, no nod in the direction of third stream or avant garde.  The tunes are all from the jazz classic playbook. The arrangements are to my untutored ear stiff,  dense, even schmaltzy, layed on the tunes thickly like with a trowel. From the artist roster and their individual playing styles  I wouldn’t have pitched this recording as late as 1962, it feels much much  earlier, I’d guess 1958, but the claim 1962 remains. What Golson showed me, unintentionally,  was how great George Russell is.

Ken Dryden of All Music Guide  picks up some interesting history of the record

After the small-group sessions were taped (not all of the musicians are on every track), an 11-piece pop orchestra was dubbed over the original recordings, playing the chord changes of the pieces on which each of the jazz compositions was based. That LP  released as “Pop + Jazz = Swing” on the Audio Fidelity label, was evidently a total flop.  Some time following Eric Dolphy’s death in 1964, the original masters, minus the overdubbed pop orchestra, were released as Just Jazz!

The net result is an object lesson. With no group leader, it doesn’t matter how much talent you gather in a studio, it’s hard to imagine a more talented group of jazz musicians than this, and the song selection outstanding, an arranger can still suffocate it with the wrong vision, pointing in the wrong direction. If the vision was to create Pop+Jazz=Swing, with orchestral overdubs, Golson’s finger was not on the modern jazz pulse of 1962, not The Space Age.

Bill Evans doesn’t shine as he did with Russell’s arrangements, Shorter is restrained, not the bombastic sour tone we came to know through Blue Note, even great tunes like Autumn Leaves (think Adderley’s spine-tingling also solo on “Something Else”)becomes stiff and formulaic, strangled by over-arranging, falling in love with the process of arranging instead of bringing out a bigger new vision of the tune.  On the positive side Fuller and Moncur romp infectiously,  and Dolphy is irrepressible as always, worth the price of admission alone.

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