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MULLIGAN AND DESMOND AT WORK AND PLAY
on 30 October 2011
This encounter turned out to be a meeting of like-minds despite different backgrounds. Paul Desmond performed mostly with Dave Brubeck and had it written in his contract that he would not record with any other pianist. Gerry Mulligan started as an accomplished arranger before developing his instrumental and leadership skills in a format without a piano. The first studio recordings of Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan took place in 1957. The plan on this recording date was the two horns plus bass and drums aiming to improvise freely around arrangements written or outlined by Mulligan.
There is an informal quality to the titles, usually borne from a combination of repartee and serious hard work. The result is an outstanding experience of improvisation in counterpoint and solos on all six tracks. The beginning of 'The Way You Look Tonight' is almost conversational between the two horns before the solos take off. Mulligan overdubbed a third saxophone part for the final two choruses. 'Out of Nowhere' is introduced in similar counterpointal vein in another two-way interplay. The two leaders are well-versed in this approach and the way they work together is fascinating, especially when Mulligan subtley drops into a subordinate supporting role behind Desmond's solos as only an adept arranger and musician could (he did simiilar things playing with Chet Baker). The nominal arrangement by Mulligan on 'All The Things You Are' followed by Desmond's total disregard of Hoagy Carmichael's melody lines on 'Stardust' are inspirational.
'Blight of the Fumble Bee' was a title chosen by Judy Holliday (a 'friend' of Gerry) apparently based on a Ben Webster blues number. It is taken at a fast pace as the title suggests. 'Two of a Mind' sums up the leaders. It is a rather structureless piece but fun.
Paul Desmond's playing is sheer pleasure. His long melodic lines flow effortlessly with adventurous inventiveness. His tone is so soft and sweet (reminiscent of Getz) that it is a shame when his solos end. Mulligan has taken the baritone saxophone to a different level in his own style. His solos appear concise but the flow of ideas make them appear this way.
Due to other engagements, the drummers were Connie Kay and Mel Lewis, and the bassists Joe Benjamin, Wendell Marshall and John Beal who all provide superb support (sleeve notes give details). The original liner notes by George Avakian must have been printed with a pin and are virtually unreadable even with a magnifying glass. (I have seen another copy and they are informative and excellent).
This is a wonderful album that continues to reveal more on repeat hearings whilst remaining a musical beauty. Unreservedly recommended.