It’s 1959: Kind of Blue, Time Out, Giant Steps, The Shape of Jazz to Come and Mingus Ah Um are all brand-new, in one of jazz’s finest years ever. Not everyone who plays the music will, of course, reach the level of fame enjoyed by the cats who made those records, but neither do they deserve eternal obscurity. The Idrees Sulieman Quartet, led by the American trumpeter who had played on Monk’s first Blue Note session and lent his chops to Coleman Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams and others, is a good example. The band, also featuring pianist Oscar Dennard, bassist Jamil Nasser and drummer Buster Smith, stopped in Tangier during a mostly European tour and cut some tracks on subpar equipment in a radio studio. No one heard them until a Japanese company put them out in 1983. It was thought to be Dennard’s only session with a small group, as he died in 1960. Turns out it wasn’t.
This reissue makes available again the Tangier studio session and adds a second disc containing a live session recorded by the same configuration at a party in New York, prior to the tour. There’s no denying that the sound quality is one notch above abysmal. Even so, there’s no lack of joy here. Dennard is a remarkably inventive pianist in this setting—his seven-minute improvisation is numbingly good—and Sulieman’s blowing on tracks like “’Round Midnight” and “These Foolish Things” is alternately hot and sweet.
It’s still the Tangier session that makes this worthy though, not only for its historical value but for the sublime music this outfit created during its much-too-short lifetime. Well known or not, this would’ve been some band to see. Sulieman himself remained active into the 1990s (he died in 2002), releasing several leader albums and working with an A-list of players if never quite becoming one himself. This invaluable set plugs a hole in his discography as well as in Dennard’s sadly tiny one.