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Zoot Sims with the Joe Castro Trio: Live at Falcon Lair

His friends say that Zoot Sims was always up for a jam session, any opportunity to be loose and just blow. This April 1956 encounter with pianist Joe Castro, bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Ron Jefferson at the Beverly Hills estate Castro shared with tobacco heiress Doris Duke documents one such occasion and finds the great tenorist on alto, an instrument on which he would record formally several times later that year and early the next. Castro often taped his frequent Falcon Lair jam sessions, and these previously unreleased performances are among those he saved.

Sims fans will find this recording to be a mixed blessing. At times, as on Castro’s “Blues for Nat” and “J.C. Blues,” for example, Zoot overflows with interesting ideas propelled by his irrepressible swing. And his tone, a higher pitched version of his tenor sound, retains its Prezian purity. Castro often offers up some very good bop-like piano and Vinnegar, with the able assistance of Jefferson, is his usual rock-solid self.

But this was very evidently an informal occasion. Some tunes are started and stopped in haphazard fashion, frequently with little agreement about the order of solos. Indeed, it takes quite a while before things jell on “Pennies From Heaven.” And uncharacteristically for Sims, the alto break on “A Night in Tunisia” seems rhythmically clumsy.

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