Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Thinking about Gerry Mulligan

Finally found a way to change the time. So from here on out, hopefully it won't look like I'm posting three hours before I actually do it......

Playing right now: Nothing (although over breakfast, I listened to Miles Davis' Collector's Items and Andrew Hill's Andrew).

I got my copy of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet album Reunion with Chet Baker in the mail yesterday. Now, maybe I shouldn't say anything because I only paid 99 cents for it in an auction, but it came in an oversized envelope that was slightly padded, but didn't protect the record from careless mail carriers who might've tried to bend it or simply tossed it around. (It didn't even have "fragile" stamped on it.) So it arrived warped. The seller gave me a vague description of it when I asked, because he didn't have any description posted with the listing. No wonder no one else bid on it. So it's worth 99 cents but I probably wouldn't've shelled out $5 in postage if I knew about the shoddy packaging job.

But it is a great album, which leads me to today's post; a post that will also include ruminations on Mulligan Meets Monk, which showed up about a week ago -- another auction win.

1957 seemed to be a pivotal year for both Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk. Miles fired Coltrane, who kicked his drug habit and played with Monk for several months in a band that was by all accounts pretty colossal. By the end of the year, Trane was back with Miles for a band that has been well-documented. For Gerry, he did the album with Monk and recorded several sessions for Pacific Jazz including the aforementioned one that got him together with Chetty again.

At first, Mulligan Meets Monk sounds kind of ....well, languid. Easy going. But really, there is some good interaction between the two guys. Mulligan kind of plays over and around Monk's weird accompaniment style, but he really gets some good ideas going on "'Round Midnight" and "I Mean You." The recording could have been a little better. Two tracks have bass solos and you'd think Wilbur Ware was in the other room, they're so faint. And you can barely hear drummer Shadow Wilson on "Midnight" and "Sweet and Lovely." Of course maybe that speaks to Wilson's skill and keeping a soft tempo going. But I'd rather hear him a little more.

I was looking through the booklet with Mosaic's Gerry Mulligan Quartet Pacific Jazz set, and the notes, in passing, said that the energy at the 1957 reunion date didn't match the original stuff that Gerry and Chetty did. True, it's different, but the album is still a really good one. Dave Bailey, who'd play with Gerry for a while, is the drummer and none other than Henry Grimes plays bass. And Henry is really prominent, as if to say, "This isn't a mellow West Coast date. We have some drive here." He really steers the quartet.

All but one of the 8 cuts are written by other people. That's worth noting since a lot of the best quartet stuff of theirs was written by Gerry. They play songs like "Stardust" and "Surrey With a Fringe On Top" which have a lot of the counterpoint arrangements that were similar to the earlier quartet stuff. They also do Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" which is the first time that I can recall them doing a straight up and down bebop tune. It's funny, at the end, they don't go back and play the theme, something unusual for that era, I think.

That reminds me, I forgot to comment on the fact that the version of "Rhythm-a-ning" on Mulligan Meets Monk has a slightly different melody than the way it's normally played. They kind of scale it down. As far as I can tell that was the first time Monk recorded that song, at least for Riverside, so I wonder if it was still a work in progress at that point.

By the way, I have to mention that the copy of Mulligan Meets Monk arrived looking like the total opposite of Reunion. It's an original and while one of the seams is ripped a little, the cover is otherwise in beautiful shape and the record plays really well. There's something about those shiny album covers from the '50s that set my heart a-beatin'.

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