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Sonny Stitt: Endgame Brilliance

Sonny Stitt was one of many great players who bounced back from ’60s disillusion and disenfranchisement to hit second career peaks in the ’70s, and this two-fer-one CD reissue marks a double parabola of his rubberized progress.

Before and after Stitt’s revivifying world tours with The Giants of Jazz (with Diz, Monk, Kai and Bu), producer Don Schlitten put him in front of a simpatico acoustic trio-Barry Harris, Sam Jones and Roy Brooks (7/71) or Alan Dawson (2/72)-and let the tapes roll. Lord, how swift they rolled! It wasn’t so much hot tempos-Sonny does play unctuous yet riveting ballads-as emotive precision and firm unanimity of style that made the sessions cohere with no wasted notes.

Indeed, at 47, the keen saxophonist from Boston was in fabulous form: poetic yet direct, winging yet succinct. What an ineffable “Just Friends”! The trio of giants knew their roles too well to elbow or jostle for the gold ring: it was his day to wail, and they lent prime aid. Harris jabs and prods just enough.

The formula worked so nice, they ran with it twice. On Constellation, Sonny cherrypicks and merrily pits bop beauties (Bird’s “Constellation,” Bud’s “Webb City,” Brown’s “Ray’s Idea,” Tadd’s “Casbah”), pens a blues, chooses a ballad on each horn-on tenor (“Ghost Of A Chance”) and alto (“It’s Magic”)-and ends with a swingeroo (“Topsy”). “Tune Up!,” shy two boppers, indulges extensive bop variants on “I Got Rhythm.”

If this (and the Person/Carter duos and Phil Woods’ Musique du Bois) indicate Joel Dorn’s initial plans for reissuing the cream of Joe Fields’ Muse catalog, he garners kudos from this corner.

Originally Published