Howard_mcghee-introducing_the_kenny_drew_trio_span3 Frank_foster-here_comes_frank_foster_span3
March 1999

Sal Salvador Quintet-Quartet
Stan Kenton Presents
Blue Note Records
Gil Melle
The Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions
Blue Note Records
Howard McGhee
Introducing the Kenny Drew Trio
Vol. 2/ Tal Farlow Quartet

Blue Note Records
Julius Watkins Sextet
Volumes 1 & 2
Blue Note Records
Frank Foster
Here Comes Frank Foster
Blue Note Records
George Wallington
George Wallington Showcase
Blue Note Records

In the early 1950s modern jazz was still defining itself. There were no more than several dozen working modern jazz players in the world when the decade began, an extended community of hipsters trying to catch up with Bird and figure out what the implications of bop were. It seems incredible that by the end of the decade the music would seem to some so totally predictable as to warrant another revolution.

Bebop was the order of the day (1-23-50) when Howard McGhee brought a sextet featuring J. J. Johnson, Brew Moore, Kenny Drew, Curly Russell, and Max Roach to the studio. McGhee was one of the best early modern trumpet voices, occupying a stylistic middle ground between Dizzy and Fats with distinction on these fine tracks. All the soloists sparkle, Moore showing himself to have already evolved his original approach. The rhythm drives and the arrangements are tight. We pass to Drew's leader debut for the second half of the disc, recorded three years later and heavily slanted toward standards. Drew throughout is more under the spell of Bud Powell than he was to be in a few years, which is all to the good for
my money.

McGhee's ‘53 session features Gigi Gryce, Horace Silver, Tal Farlow, Percy Heath, and Walter Bolden. McGhee is again excellent-he is if anything more comfortable with the more modern style that was evolving, and we can only wish that he could have had a larger part to play in the ensuing years. Gryce contributes some lovely alto and a couple of tunes.

The arrangements are effective, Silver is great, of course, and the rhythm section outstanding. Farlow's debut date as leader suffers a bit by comparison. The unfamiliar but excellent second guitarist Don Arnone, bassist Clyde Lombardi, and Joe Morello give workmanlike performances but the feeling is like downshifting by accident when you hit track 8.

Still, Farlow was a guitarist to reckon with, and he certainly steps out more than he had as a sideman. "Splash," "Rock ‘n' Rye," and "Tina," excellent originals featuring brilliant two-guitar lines, are among Farlow's most convincing recordings, his phrasing here oh-so-close to great. I am more a fan of Raney or Thomas than Farlow or Pass, but this session is easy to recommend to jazz guitar fans.

That crowd will also be pleased at the chance to hear Sal Salvador again. One of the earliest guitarists to master the modern idiom, Salvador's pleasantly swinging style is showcased on these three ‘53-'54 sessions. Sidemen like Frank Sokolow (tenor) sound a little stiff compared to players on other titles here, and while this disc is a solid period entry it is harder to recommend except to specialists.

Julius Watkins applied himself manfully toward adapting the French horn to small group jazz, but never quite convinced the rest of the world.

These two sessions are the forerunners of his work with Charlie Rouse's The Jazz Modes, which should have made his reputation. The first features the redoubtable Frank Foster, the second a young but very impressive Hank Mobley. Perry Lopez on guitar and Oscar Pettiford are constant throughout, George Butcher and Duke Jordan divide time at piano, and Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey do the drumming. Some of the atmospheric arranging of the earlier session seems corny today, but Watkins' solos date well and the two tenors are great.

Foster's own debut as leader is paired with a date led by pianist George Wallington. The first rhythm section includes Heath, Clarke, and the fine but forgotten pianist Gildo Mahones. This is a relaxed, swinging session despite a few odd moments and some dated material. The key to the Wallington program, which features Foster, Dave Burns, Jimmy Cleveland, Danny Bank (bari and flute), Pettiford, and Clarke, is Quincy Jones' arrangements. The session sounds a bit like the Clifford Brown/Jones sessions without Brown, which is all right but not what you might expect from the unregenerate bop records Wallington would make later.
Gil Melle's early recordings are all gathered on an impressive two-CD set. The music is frankly experimental even by the standards of the time, but holds up surprisingly well. The cast includes the likes of Roach, Pettiford, and Farlow, and Melle is an intriguing soloist on baritone and tenor (reminiscent of early Giuffre), but it is the arranging that makes the music special. Melle's notes are an unfortunate distraction as he blows some bad claims on his own horn by listing many imaginary "firsts," but innovators have been prone to excessive claims ever since the "invention" of jazz. It is more pertinent to say that the excellent later ensemble writing here points the way directly to George Russell's classic RCA recordings of a few years later, and that Melle never forgot to swing.

Originally published in March 1999
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