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Gerry Mulligan: And the Concert Jazz Band featuring Zoot Sims, Zurich 1960

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November 17, 1960, was a good night for Mulligan’s 13-piece band and a triumphal one for his guest soloist, Zoot Sims. Two nights later in Paris, as captured on a Europe 1 CD (RTE 1505-2), Sims had a fine solo on “Apple Core,” Mulligan’s transformation of “Love Me or Leave Me.” On the same piece in Zurich, Sims was incandescent. He played at a level of swing and invention seldom achieved by a soloist. Improvisation so exalted almost never takes place in a studio and is rarely captured on a live recording. Paul Gonsalves reached such a peak with Ellington at Newport in 1956 on “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue,” Jim Hall on “Stompin’ at the Savoy” in Art Farmer’s quartet at the Half Note in 1963. Sims’ Zurich “Apple Core” is in that league. His passion and logic are equally intense throughout the five-minute performance and escalate during two long sections of stop-time breaks. In the fervor of its ovation, the audience nearly matches Zoot’s vigor-and no wonder.

At a slower tempo on Ben Webster’s blues “Go Home,” Sims builds up another powerful head of steam while the band softly riffs behind him on a theme that goes back at least as far as King Oliver’s “Chimes Blues.” Sims’ playing is extraordinary, but Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer and several other soloists are not far behind. Trumpeters Conte Candoli and Don Ferrara and the brilliant alto saxophonist Gene Quill have splendid solos. Mel Lewis, working hand in glove with bassist Buddy Clark, drives the band with the crispness and power that marked him as one of the greatest of all big band drummers.

Night after night during the short life of the Concert Jazz Band, Mulligan and his musicians imparted renewed freshness to its rich repertoire, from “Walkin’ Shoes,” to Brookmeyer’s imperishable arrangement of “You Took Advantage of Me,” to Johnny Mandel’s “Black Nightgown.” That is what happens when superb players under a gifted leader live with first-rate material long enough to absorb it and inhabit it. The band’s recorded legacy is not in proportion to its importance. What a treat, 40 years later, to have the surprise of this marvelous concert album.