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Various Artists: The Complete Bee Hive Sessions

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By 1977, jazz had turned its back on tradition, its biggest stars playing varieties that sounded more like pop, disco and prog-rock. Weather Report’s easy-on-the-ears sound took the jazz world by storm, and Chick Corea was making jazz versions of Tales From Topographic Oceans. Wynton Marsalis and the rest of the Young Lions, meanwhile, were still in high school. So what Jim and Susan Neumann of Evanston, Ill., did that year was completely counterintuitive, even radical. They launched a record label-Bee Hive, named for a Chicago jazz club-out of their home in Evanston, and invited hard-bop veterans to record whatever they wanted. Over the next seven years, Bee Hive Jazz Records would release 16 albums by artists whose heyday had passed as well as those who had not been given their due as leaders. They played their own compositions, and they covered jazz standards. Better-known guys-Pepper Adams, Roy Haynes, Dave Holland, Joe Morello, Jimmy Cobb-served as sidemen. To a man, they played as though their everlasting reputations would depend on it. The sessions were urgent and spontaneous, a welcome respite from the tightly scripted sides coming out of the major labels.

These albums have been all but forgotten. At a time when the big labels trade on legacy-releasing yet another previously unheard Miles Davis concert and an expanded version of a bestselling album on the occasion of its 50th anniversary-there is no room for Dick Katz’s In High Profile, Arnett Cobb’s Keep on Pushin’ or Sal Salvador’s Starfingers. Which means we owe just as much debt to Mosaic Records for bringing the Bee Hive recordings back to life as we do to the Neumanns for making them in the first place.

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