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Elvin Jones: The Complete Blue Note Elvin Jones Sessions

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When the stylistic development of drum-set playing in the history of jazz is researched, the logical progression from Zutty Singleton, Chick Webb, “Big Sid” Catlett and Jo Jones to Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones is fairly evident. As Max Roach explained, “We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.” Next in line is Elvin Jones.

Initially encountering resistance from both critics and musicians, Jones might just as well have been an alien suddenly arriving from another planet whose civilization was far more advanced in the percussive arts than ours. Nothing would ever be the same, and everybody knew it upon first hearing this radically different drummer. Some resented the accelerated change; others, like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, both welcomed it and realized they had been subliminally waiting for it.

That said, The Complete Blue Note Elvin Jones Sessions presents the music from nine different recording projects (from 1968’s Puttin’ It Together and The Ultimate Elvin Jones trio dates with Joe Farrell and Jimmy Garrison to Jones’ adventurous last session for Blue Note in 1973, parts of which eventually were released as Prime Element in 1976 and/or At This Point in Time in 1998, heard here on Disc VI) plus Live at the Lighthouse minus the stage announcements and the audience singing “Happy Birthday” to the drummer from the original double album. Everything is remixed, remastered and packaged with Mosaic’s conscientious elegance.

The origins of Jones’ style cannot be traced, for he was not a work in progress. His fully intact, fecund independence and prodigious imagination are identified on even his earliest recordings (Sonny Rollins’ 1957 A Night at the Village Vanguard and a Miles Davis date, Blue Moods, with Mingus, Teddy Charles and Britt Woodman immediately come to mind). Disc I’s “Village Greene,” “Jay-Ree,” “Gingerbread Boy” and “In the Truth” all immediately capture Elvin’s fiery musicality, individualistic sound and audacious, ambidextrous polyrhythmic concepts, with his hi-hat in dramatic counterpoint to his snare drum and toms, the bass drum and cymbals used both as other equal voices in his drum-set choir and to complete his stream-of-consciousness sentences. His amazing complexity in four-bar, eight-bar and extended solos is achieved through astonishing structures of left-foot, right-foot and left-hand triplet barrages around his set, against broken, dynamic right-hand cymbal patterns.

Discs III and IV feature material from Poly-Currents and Coalition, releases on which Wilbur Little replaced Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Joe Farrell’s underrated multireed talents were augmented by combinations of George Coleman (“5/4 Thing”), Pepper Adams, Frank Foster (“Simone”) and percussionist Candido. By the time of 1971’s Genesis, however, bassist Gene Perla and saxophonist Dave Liebman had become steady members of Jones’ working band, and Elvin’s own “Three Card Molly,” a live performance favorite, is a highlight of this set.

On the next chronological release Merry-Go-Round (Disc V), Perla had become de facto musical director for the group and had introduced pianist Jan Hammer and sympathetic percussionist Don (“Lungs”) Alias into the fold, and saxophonist Steve Grossman was added to the lineup. Besides Liebman’s composition “Brite Piece,” other outstanding cuts from this session include Chick Corea sitting in on his own “La Fiesta” as well as on “A Time For Love” and “Tergiversation.” Indeed the “New Breed” (another Liebman contribution originally surfacing on 1973’s Mr. Jones) had arrived.

Considering Jones’ reputation as a jazz artist well known for his legendary live performances and thus at that point long overdue, discs VII and VIII constitute the three sets captured on tape from the end of a three-week run at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Calif., on Elvin’s 45th birthday, Sept. 9, 1972.

Factoring in the unique insider’s viewpoint of Dave Liebman’s exquisite 13-page essay together with Francis Wolff’s archival session photographs and a complete discography, anyone interested in post-Coltrane second-generation developments in jazz should keep in mind that a limited edition of 5000 sets of The Complete Blue Note Elvin Jones Sessions is available solely through Mosaic Records, 203-327-7111 or