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Gerry Mulligan: The Complete Verve Gerry Mulligan Concert Band Sessions

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In addition to his stature as one of the great baritone saxophonists in history, Gerry Mulligan holds a reputation as a composer-arranger of significant influence. His signature sound-an unusual, irresistible blend of intricate counterpoint and open harmonic space-was a key development of the postwar era, finding its earliest outlet on Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. A little over a decade later, that sound reached its deepest expression through the short-lived but important ensemble captured here.

The opening salvo of this four-disc box, an Al Cohn arrangement of Harry Warren’s “Sweet and Slow,” clearly evokes the color palette of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. It’s a telling touchstone, but hardly indicative of the Concert Band’s subsequent path. The remarkable flexibility of this large ensemble, and its blend of lightness and strength, have few precursors. Certainly a luminous arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Manoir de Mes Reves” underscores Mulligan’s affinity with Gil Evans. (Both Mulligan and Evans arranged for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, which provides this band’s clearest antecedent.) But Mulligan’s crew proves just as comfortable with a muscular shout chorus. Its earliest recording, a version of the Ellington high-stepper “I’m Gonna Go Fishin,'” careens along with manic force, building to a screaming climax.

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