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Art Farmer and Benny Golson: The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson/Jazztet Sessions

The Jazztet was one of the better bands going in the early ’60s, and the six LPs it made for Argo and Mercury sound better with each passing year. The featured members were tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and trumpeter/flugelhornist Art Farmer, and though trombonist Curtis Fuller is remembered as the third horn he only appeared on the first record. The fine but all-but-forgotten Tom McIntosh held the trombone chair for the next three LPs, and Grachan Moncur III occupied it on the last two.

The Jazztet’s style, broadly speaking, is hard bop, but the band depended on arranged ensemble passages more than most small groups of the period, avoided long solos and found other ways to reach out toward the general public without compromising its music. Golson, of course, has long been celebrated as one his generation’s major composers, and the group recorded versions of several of his best-known tunes, from “I Remember Clifford” and “Whisper Not” to “Blues March” (though for some reason later records featured fewer Golson originals). The excellent The Jazztet & John Lewis was dedicated to that composer (the arrangement of “Django” here will be a revelation to listeners used to standard versions), but on the other LPs the group generally favored a mix of standards and jazz tunes from a variety of sources both within the band (Moncur, Farmer, McIntosh) and from without (Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, Randy Weston).

Also included are two fine quartet dates each from the principals (Golson’s Turning Point and Free from 1962; Farmer’s Art from 1960 and Perception from 1961) as well as the Golson record Take a Number From 1 to 10 (1960) that featured lineups from solo to 10-piece (the duo with bassist Tommy Williams on “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” is classic) and 1962’s Listen to Art Farmer and the Orchestra, one of Oliver Nelson’s better large-group sessions.

This period witnessed Farmer’s transition from trumpet to flugelhorn. But I’ve always preferred his work with the smaller horn, which is one reason that his first Argo quartet LP wore out years before the second chez moi-the other reason being the stunning version of Golson’s “Out of the Past,” where Tommy Flanagan says more in his eight-bar intro here than most pianists can say in a lifetime. Golson and Farmer were both wonderful soloists, with the saxophonist reaching from his Lucky Thompson roots toward up into that of his progressive brothers in the Philly tenor fraternity (Jimmy Heath, Bill Barron, John Coltrane) and Farmer forging his unique middle path between hot- and cool-school blowing. Pianists McCoy Tyner (on the first date) and Harold Mabern show why their stars were rising, and Tootie Heath displays why a good drummer is worth his weight in gold.

There are no previously unheard takes on this seven-CD collection, but this set is greater than the considerable sum of its parts, without a bad track in sight, and it features outstanding liner notes from Bob Blumenthal. It’s an extra kick to see the deluxe treatment given to music that originally appeared on a budget label.

Originally Published