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Various Artists: Douglas on Blue Note

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During the year or so that Alan Douglas was head honcho of United Artists’ jazz division, he made a significant contribution to its recorded literature. In retrospect, it seems he came out with a new album every week. In reality, some of the tracks date from 1954; others from 1957. Some were recorded in studios; others on location. Some were issued during Douglas’ tenure. The vast majority hails from ’62 — a year The Wire claims Douglas “brokered some of the most influential recordings of the time.” His was a concept of cross-pollination based on personalities more than styles. A few years later, UA was absorbed by the Blue Note catalog, eventually giving rise to this eclectic cross-section of fourteen diverse tracks.

Among the mix ‘n’ match classics: an aggressive Duke Ellington, backed by bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach on “Caravan;” tenorist John Coltrane with an uncharacteristically subdued Cecil Taylor, piano, playing “Just Friends;” a driving Bill Evans, piano, supported by guitarist Jim Hall for a way-up “My Funny Valentine;” Mingus’ Jazz Workshop doing “I Can’t Get Started,” with two still-fresh-sounding solos by altoist John Handy, and Master Mingus.

Arranger Oliver Nelson provides a laid-back cushion for altoist Phil Woods on “Rendezvous;” Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers set a comfortable groove for stellar soloists trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, tenorist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Cedar Walton. But the group that steals the album is led by Herbie Mann for the propulsive “Brazil,” thanks to the frantic tempo set by bassist Bill Salter, drummer Willie Bobo, and the solo fires lit by vibist Haygood Hardy and, in particular, flutist Mann.

Vocalists? Oh yes. Two quickies from Billie Holiday sounding so delicious on the torch epic, “My Man” and “Them There Eyes.” Both were from club appearances, not recordings. Dig the sensitive comping by pianist Carl Drinkard. Betty Carter and pianist Harold Mabern offer an interesting take on “This Is Always,” meaning Ms Carter sounded better as she aged. One male singer: King Pleasure, doing (surprise) “Moody’s Mood for Love.” In all, a historically fascinating CD, but considering how long the disc has been below the horizon, it should come as no surprise that there will be tracks you’ve never heard before.

Originally Published