This double CD set from Avid comprises four vinyl albums, and is so jam-packed that it's just seventeen seconds short of 2 hours 40 minutes. "Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges" dates from July 1960, when the two virtuosi were ably supported by Claude Williamson on piano, Buddy Clark on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums. The Gerry Mulligan Quartet, that is himself on baritone sax, Art Farmer on trumpet, Bill Crow on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums, recorded "What is There to Say?" in December 1958/January 1959.
The second CD starts with an album from an earlier Quartet, which instead of a trumpeter featured Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone, and Gerry took a turn at the piano; it was recorded in George Wein's Storyville Club in Boston in December 1956. One track from this album, "Gerry Mulligan at Storyville", had to be switched to the end of the first CD in order to accommodate everything within the space available. In conclusion, we have "Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster" from November and December 1959, where the rhythm section was made up of Jimmy Rowles on piano, Mel Lewis on drums, and Leroy Vinnegar on bass.
The first album is beautifully recorded, and very relaxed, with the two horn men, who contributed three original compositions apiece, obviously enjoying a splendid rapport. I'd single out the slow ballads "What's the Rush?" and "What's it All About?" as particularly showcasing Hodges' lyricism. The second album was Mulligan's first recording for Columbia, and the last of his pianoless quartet albums. It's a splendid romp through a mixture of standards and originals, with Mulligan very much the focal point around which everything revolves. Art Farmer's throaty trumpet, which he abandoned soon after in favour of the flugelhorn, is the perfect foil to Mulligan`s horn.
Ben Webster's tenor and Mulligan's baritone make for an intoxicating mix, nowhere more so than on Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge", where Mulligan's horn shimmers behind Webster's introduction. The final number is a joint collaboration, and stretches out into an extended essay. The final album is also the earliest, taped in concert with a respectful audience in attendance. Here Gerry plays in tandem with Bob Brookmeyer's valve trombone, underpinned by the reliable Crow/Bailey rhythm section, and their contrasting tones are a constant delight.
As is Avid's usual practice, the original sleeve notes, by Nat Hentoff, Alun Morgan, and (I guess) Gerry himself, are reproduced in the liner, and their articulateness is to be commended. Remastering is excellent, and this reissue should be snapped up.
This is a truly sumptuous collection of four outstanding Mulligan albums. if you're looking for jazz infused with the sheer joy of music-making, jazz with rich melody lines and beguiling improvisation, outstanding professional performances by musicians at their peak performances, this is surely it. This is music to make you smile, relax, and give yourself up to it. Superbly re-mastered, with original liner notes included, this is an unmissable selection of some of the best Mulligan around (with the highlight, arguably, the magnificent duets with Webster, with the deep, blended tones of both saxes a thing of real beauty).
Don't just take my word on this. If you have a look at either the 'Gramophone' or 'Penguin' guides to jazz, you'll discover that these albums are listed as true 'classics', often with **** star reviews. Yet you get all this for less than a fiver? Sometimes life is very, very good...
I have owned much of the music on this compilation album for decades, so why write a review now? Simply to add weight to those others who have published comments here. The four albums are each masterpieces recorded between 1956 and 1960. Two are in the "collaboration series" (others include the likes of Monk and Desmond, both available from Avid). The first to be presented (from 1960) is with Ellingtonian Johnny Hodges, the first master of the alto saxophone (only to be eventually bettered by Art Pepper?). Mulligan and Hodges compliment each other brilliantly. On disc two Mulligan is paired with another "Ellingtonian" Ben Webster, master tenor saxophonist. The rapport between Mulligan and Webster is again perfect and the cut of "Chelsea Bridge" must rate as one of the all-time classic recordings in jazz history. (A word of warning: only six tracks are present here, but if one buys the CD separately there are eleven tracks. Don't let this stop you buying this double CD)
The other two albums are of two of Gerry's own groups. The first, chronologically, is from 1956. This pianoless* quartet features Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone), with regular bass and drums: Bill Crow and Dave Bailey. (*Gerry plays piano on one track). Brookmeyer worked on and off with Mulligan over many years, especially during Gerry's "concert band years". There is marvellous empathy between these front liners, ably supported throughout by the Crow and Bailey partnership.
Finally we have the album that I regard as "la creme de la creme" of Mulligan (even all time jazz?) albums. "What is there to say" from late 1958 / early 1959 is a wonderful display of quartet jazz. This time Art Farmer (tpt) has replaced Brookmeyer. This is a "rollicking good album", not only great fun to listen to but is a marvellous example of four musicians working as one. There are really dynamic tunes such as "Blueport" and "Utter Chaos" counterpoised against ballads such as the title track or "My Funny Valentine".
By the way the sound recording is exemplary throughout.
Four magnificent albums for the price of a couple of beers! How's that for value? Unbeatable!
Gerry Mulligan could play piano, soprano sax, alto as well as finding his chosen niche on baritone. Also a superb arranger. The contrasts in the tones and registers of the instruments add bite, variety and support to his fellow musicians and vice versa. This bargain AVID compilation is a representation of the collective talents of sublime musicians from four classic albums. The players have an affiliation with one another, unsurprising considering their talents and experience.
Stylistic differences often blend into a collective sound. With Johnny Hodges plaintive tones and Ben Webster as masterful as ever, this is a listener's delight. The overall sessions are standout. The solos are instantly identifiable and joyous. The contrasting tones add to the overall appeal, awaiting the next solo. The contributions of Art Farmer and Jimmy Rowles should not be overshadowed by the leading hornmen, nor valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. 'My Funny Valentine', 'Chelsea Bridge','Blueport' are all examples of these magnificent players. The re-mastered sound quality is excellent. Sleeve notes original. Superb.