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Carmell Jones: Mosaic Select

In the pantheon of jazz trumpeters, Carmell Jones (1936-1996) stands in a secondary tier of substantive yet largely occluded talents deserving greater appreciation. Although not an innovator, Jones was a compelling stylist whose warm sound gave fluid expression to lithe lines spun from a largely bop-based argot. In this revealing and enjoyable three-disc set culled from the vaults of Jones’ 1961 to 1963 Pacific Jazz career, we hear a young man with a Clifford Brown-inflected horn solidifying an approach that would “sing” most famously in Horace Silver’s landmark Song for My Father (Blue Note).

The first of the three Mosaic discs gives us Jones’ 1961 leader debut, The Remarkable Carmell Jones, as well as tracks from his 1962 sophomore session, Business Meetin’. Recorded when Jones was in his mid-20s and fresh from two years at the University of Kansas and two more years with Uncle Sam, the trumpeter does justice by the first album’s titular italicizing of “remarkable.” While in 1961 Jones was still in the process of amalgamating influences ranging from Brownie to Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Clark Terry, one is nonetheless struck by his singing sound, fleet technique, adroit use of space and the promise of things to come.

The 1961 quintet features a first-class cast: tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Frank Strazzeri, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Leon Pettis. Land’s insinuating, sheets-of-sound tenoring is particularly impressive. So, too, Strazzeri’s able comping, Peacock’s audacious soloing and Pettis’ nuanced time-keeping. Among the highlights are Jones’ brass-on-sleeve romancing of “Come Rain or Come Shine” and a sassy Jones’ original, “Sad March,” which though recalling Benny Golson’s “Blues March,” marches to the beat of Jones’ own drummer.

With the same lineup, save for drummer Donald Dean subbing for Pettis, Business Meetin’ documents Jones’ growing authority. Indeed, by 1962 Jones was a mainstay of L.A.’s then-busy scene, working frequently with the Harold Land-Red Mitchell quintet, Shelly Manne’s Men, the Lighthouse All-Stars and Bud Shank. Here, the empathic interplay of Jones and Land crackles and pops. On Jones’ waltzing “That’s Good” and calypso-colored “Hip Trolley,” everything clicks, including the leader’s well-constructed charts.

On the second Mosaic disc, we get the second half of Business Meetin’, a nonet session arranged by Gerald Wilson, with Jones, altoists Shank and Clifford Scott, tenorists Land and Wilbur Brown, baritonist Don Raffell, pianist Strazzeri, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Ron Jefferson. In contrast to similarly sized West Coast ensembles of the period, here, there’s a hip and bluesy edge that still generates heat.

Of lesser interest are the tracks of Brass Bag, a 1962 date under the leadership of trombonist Tricky Lofton. While Gerald Wilson charts such as the gritty title track take flight, for the most part, Jones is limited to cameos amidst the bones of Lofton, Wayne Henderson, Bob Edmondson, Frank Strong and Kenny Shroyer; again, Strazzeri, Vinnegar and Jefferson back with class.

The third Mosaic disc opens with previously unreleased 1963 tracks featuring Jones, tenorist Hadley Caliman, bassist Red Mitchell, drummer Nick Martinis and Strazzeri. Intended by Pacific Jazz’s Dick Bock to showcase the pianist as leader, the amiable date was eventually shelved because the genial Strazzeri, playing his usual role as understated accompanist, didn’t assert himself enough to please Bock. The final eight tracks come from Harold Land’s ersatz 1963 quintet date, Kisses, Dooley & Scarlet Ribbons. Reflecting the period’s preoccupation with folk groups such as the Kingston Trio, Land and Jones probe the jazz potential of public domain material like “Tom Dooley” and “Scarlet Ribbons.” It’s a mostly convincing enterprise with Jones often flying with Brownian abandon.

The inclusion of John William Hardy’s original liner notes, a telling collecting of photos and Michael Cuscuna’s coda in the accompanying booklet add further perspective to Jones’ pivotal role in L.A.’s early-1960s jazz scene.

Originally Published