Big Bands Live
This is the stuff collectors dream of. The numbers induce salivating: a literal trove of never-before-released live jazz recordings dating back to 1947, some 3,000 hours of music. In all, there are 1,600 well-preserved, German-made audio recordings and 350 TV broadcasts by more than 400 different artists and groups. All of this material has been sitting in the vaults of Südwestrundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting) for decades. Now it’s been unearthed and the remastering process has begun, with high-quality quarterly releases planned on DVD as well as CD, vinyl and digital. Jazzhaus, a new label distributed in the U.S. by Naxos of America, expects to deliver a wide cross-section of both American and international vintage jazz as it was performed over the air for German audiences during the music’s most fertile period.
The barrage has gotten off to a most promising start. The three initial releases, the Benny Goodman issued under the banner of Big Bands Live and the Gerry Mulligan and Cannonball Adderley sets falling into the more general Legends Live camp, each boast clean, enhanced fidelity that, while naturally not comparable to today’s audio, is crisp and robust. Goodman’s set, taped at Stadthalle on Oct. 15, 1959, in the southwestern city of Freiburg, showcases a scaled-down but spirited 10-piece orchestra featuring such A-listers as Red Norvo on vibes, Russ Freeman playing piano, Flip Philllips on tenor sax and Jack Sheldon on trumpet.
Sharing the billing with Goodman on the disc’s cover is vocalist Anita O’Day, and she earns it. Following a trio of uptempo openers—Goodman’s theme “Let’s Dance,” “Air Mail Special” and “Raise the Riff”—O’Day makes her initial appearance on a sultry, nuanced reading of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” That the mood of the performance is inexorably altered each time she sings is a given: O’Day’s a seductress, scatting, singing the blues and otherwise sucking up all of the attention. Although the remainder of the 76-minute set offers such gems as “Whispering” (fine soloing by Norvo and guitarist Jimmy Wyble) and a subdued, bass-driven “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” the O’Day-less tracks can’t hope to impress quite so thoroughly as those she dominates.
Jumping ahead a full decade, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s hour-long performance, from Stuttgart’s Liederhalle in March 1969, is a cooker, albeit a show that finds the band struggling at times to reclaim its place at the dawn of the fusion era. Working with brother Nat on trumpet, Victor Gaskin on bass, drummer Roy McCurdy and—approaching the end of his nine-year stay with Adderley—the masterful Joe Zawinul on keys, alto saxophonist Adderley tosses plenty of soul and funk into the mix here, and while that suits the times, it doesn’t always feel quite so honest. Nevertheless, when the players gel, as they do on Zawinul’s shape-shifting “The Painted Desert,” an airy “Somewhere” and the obligatory set-closing “Work Song,” the Adderley outfit still has a lot left to offer.
The last entry in the initial Jazzhaus release—expect sets from Duke Ellington and Art Blakey next—takes the series to November 1977. Mulligan, performing more than an hour in a sextet configuration in the same room where Adderley’s gig was recorded, is still very much an adherent of cool, although he seems quite eager to expand his stylistic reach. From the epic opener, “For An Unfinished Woman”—all of the tracks are Mulligan originals save for fairly unremarkable takes on “Satin Doll” and “My Funny Valentine”—Mulligan pushes and stretches and leads this band resolutely, his baritone work always meaty and adventurous.
That’s three down, 1,597 to go. Bring ’em on.