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Various Artists: The Debut Records Story

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Charles Mingus and Max Roach ignited many a churning, probing rhythm section-for Diz & Bird, for Duke-but who’d have reckoned on them burning, brief but bright, in the realm of the record biz? In fact, Mingus and Roach fired up (OK, their ladies Celia Zaentz and Margo Ferraci lugged most of the firewood) jazz’s first stylistically democratic, relatively successful artist-owned label. Debut Records, active 1952-7, waxed and released some 78s and about 30 small-format and 12″ LPs, many of them premiere lead dates for a panoply of artists: Paul Bley, Kenny Dorham, Thad Jones, Jimmy Knepper, John LaPorta, Ada Moore, Roach (septet with recording debuts by Walter Davis, Jr., Hank Mobley). Debut scooped many of the ’50s’ full-fruit flavors, documenting pristine and pure personalities, untrammeled by harmonic intricacies and identity crises, or the looming, gloomy clouds of rock. The set’s 60 tracks, presented chronologically, show the appeal of bands making cohesive, compelling, bop statements in three minutes (e.g., Sam Most’s Defranconian “Notes To You,” Alonzo Levister’s Evansesque “Black Swan,” Roach’s “Orientation,” Honey Gordon’s “Bebopper”).

Nearly all the Mingus sides (30% of the set) were previously released by OJC in various Debut collections. Some sides sound scratchy or dusty (Bird & Miles at the Onyx; three stretch sides by Miles Davis with Birtt Woodman, Teddy Charles, Mingus, and Elvin Jones) but most are quite crisp and clean. Minor revelations include John Dennis’ impressionistic piano; fine-shaded Thad Jones affront quartet, quintet, and big band; LaPorta’s still-fresh experiments; wisps of elusive trumpeter Clarence Shaw. Ed Michel has nicely curated Debut’s neat niche in bebop history.