Gerry Mulligan was an outstanding player of the baritone sax. He was one of the best, and possibly the best, ever to play the instrument. For a fuller discussion of Mulligan’s life, see JFASN #4 from September 4, 2011 when I wrote about his classic album, “Pleyel Concert.”
The Gerry Mulligan album I want to discuss this time around is called “The Gerry Mulligan Songbook” and was recorded during two sessions in December 1957, three years after the “Pleyel Concert” recordings were made.
The personnel for these sessions were:
Gerry Mulligan, tenor sax
Lee Konitz, alto sax
Allen Eager, alto & tenor sax
Zoot Sims, alto & tenor sax
Al Cohn, tenor & baritone sax
Freddie Green, guitar
Henry Grimes, bass
Dave Bailey, drums
Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax
Paul Palmieri, guitar
Dick Wetmore, violin
Calo Scott, cello
Vinnie Burke, bass
Dave Bailey, drums
The original vinyl LP release of “Songbook” only had room for tracks 1 through 7. The final four were added when the album we reissued in CD format in 1995. Perhaps the only stone left unturned is that when the album was reissued, they did not take the extra step of digitally re-mastering it in stereo.
The music sounds more than good enough as-is on my Logitech S-0264A (also known for some reason as X-140) external computer speakers. But given the importance of this work, making it possible for the music to sound as good as modern technology will allow would seem to be a logical step that somehow was overlooked.
Now that the disk’s one flaw is out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff!
The original record was truly Mulligan’s songbook, in that all seven tracks were Mulligan originals. The four unreleased tracks added to fill out the CD version include two contributions from Horace Silver and one each from Tadd Dameron and Milt Jackson. All but one (Mulligan’s “Crazy Day”) were arranged by Bill Holman. “Crazy Day” was arranged by the composer.
The album opens with “Four And One Moore” (with “Moore” in this case referring to the mostly-forgotten tenor sax legend, Brew Moore.) This song jumps right out of the starting gate and in no time at all the whole gang is involved. With so many sax players involved you need a program to tell the players apart. Luckily for us, in his liner notes Nat Hentoff does just that, giving a blow-by-blow breakdown of which blower blows when, so to speak.
“Crazy Day” is up next. This one has a nice happy-go-lucky sound to it. Mulligan’s big bari adds a warmth that will burn away the blahs and leave you with a smile on your face.
“Turnstile,” the longest song on the disk, is up next. Like “Four And One Moore” before it, this one wastes no time getting up to speed. This song is a sax-lover’s delight, with so many tenors blowing while Dave Bailey beats the crap out of his drum kit setting the pace and Henry Grimes nearly plucks the strings off his bass.
Two more big, warm, happy-go-lucky songs follow, “Sextet” and “Disc Jockey Jump.” The second one is the livelier of the two and, coincidentally, the better-known. The brass front line really makes both songs, so it’s ironic that Sims’ alto solo on “Jump” is what stands out.
The classic “Venus de Milo,” written by Mulligan in 1949 for the legendary Miles Davis album, “Birth Of The Cool,” is a bit mellower than the preceding songs. Like the others, Mulligan’s sparse writing style leaves the guys with ample room to improvise and yet still provides a cohesive roadmap that, in this case, led them to a fantastic re-recording of one of jazz’s most revered songs.
I’m running late with this, so I’m going to skip ahead to the final track on the album, Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove.” This song was recorded with a smaller group, specifically only one sax, and that of course was Mulligan. Besides Mulligan, Dave Bailey was the only holdover from the previous group. While mellower than most of the other songs, the appeal of this one can’t be denied.
All-in-all, I’m fairly certain that you will find “The Gerry Mulligan Songbook” to be a more-than-worthy addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Gerry Mulligan and his music, visit the links I provided at the end of my 2011 review of “Pleyel Concert.” There is also an extensive biography of Mulligan on the Wikipedia web site.
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