Jam Gems "Live" at the Left Bank
Label M's fifth installment of its archival series (culled from the raw, home recordings of Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society) bristles with exhilarating energy from the first note to the last on this 1965 encounter between Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath. But what is almost as exciting as Hubbard's heroic high notes and Heath's flowing tenor abandon here is the sound of the Famous Ballroom crowd itself, whooping and howling its visceral approval at every bravura turn by these great improvisers at the peak of their powers. This whole intoxicating ambiance-the constant buzz in the room from hip chattering, lusty laughing, finger-popping and encouraging shouts to the soloists who respond in kind with some incredibly inspired playing-reminds me of what first grabbed my collar back in my rock-fed youth. The living, breathing aspect of this soulful, playful music is irresistible.
Hubbard kicks it off in frenzied fashion with some stratospheric playing on Heath's "All Members" before passing the baton to Heath, who answers with his own intense volley. The two jazz giants get down and dirty on the funky "Bluesville," which pianist Gus Simms, bassist Wilbur Little and drummer Bertell Knox handle with the bounce of Benny Golson's "Blues March." Heath's shining moment comes on a luxurious reading of "Lover Man," which finds him spinning innumerable melodic variations on that familiar theme. A blazing 15-minute version of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" allows Hubbard and Heath plenty of room for stretching as the excitable audience eggs them on to some outrageous flights of fancy. And this glorious document closes with a 17-minute rendition of "Autumn Leaves," which offers another extended platform for Heath's spontaneous invention.
This is marvelous stuff, nostalgic to old school jazz fans yet thrilling on its own merits. As Label M's Joel Dorn so rightly points out in the liner notes: "God bless the Left Bank and their little home tape recorder."