If you got introduced to jazz in the 1970s (as I did), the music that was playing on radio stations and concerts was fusion, or “jazz-rock.” The ripples created by Miles Davis albums like Bitches Brew ended up with alumni forming bands such as Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Headhunters and Return to Forever. Every jazz artist trying to make a living was “plugging in” and trying to get a bit of rock or soul/funk music into their albums. It was one of the last times jazz was popular.
But what about all of the artists that played in the 50s-60s and didn’t buy into the electronic? A lot of them went by the wayside. Even McCoy Tyner became a taxi driver for awhile. It was tough times for “mainstream” artists. Low and behold, a husband and wife team, Jim and Susan Neumann stepped out from making a living with lighting fixtures to try and save bebop and hard bop for the ages. The result of their 7 year mission were 16 albums, all put onto 12 discs here on a limited edition basis of 5000. The music here is an acoustic oasis of jazz in the desert of fusion.
You get a couple sessions from tenor saxists like left of center Clifford Jordan, hard swinger Sal Nistico and Texas Tenor Arnett Cobb. Big toned baritone saxist Nick Brignola booms in for a couple sessions, and Kenton alumni Sal Salvador brings his guitar in for a couple rounds. Underrated hard boppers such as Dizzy Reese and Curtis Fuller check in, and then there are some wonderful works by pianists/arrangers like Ronnie Matthews, Roland Hanna, Junior Mance and Dick Katz in some superb settings. But, most important of all here is the last vocal session Johnny Hartman did in 1980, and its worth the whole kit and caboodle.
Two cds of baritone saxist Nick Brignola have him mixing and matching with big horns Pepper Adams, Cecile Payne and Ronnie Cuber with rhythm teams that include Dave Holland and either Roy Haynes/dr or Jimmy Cobb/dr. There is a 3 bari heaven as thick as molasses on “Nick Who’s Blues” and a bopping “Our Delight” while Brignola’s alto melds with Adams for a sleek “Stablemates” . These 77 & 79 sessions are wonderful!
Clifford Jordan checks in for an ’81- ’83 and ’84 session. The former has him with outside man Von Freeman co-linked at the tenor as well as bass trumpeter Cy Touff for a gorgeous “Lotus Blossom” and “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West” while Jordan goes it alone at the front on “I Waited For You.” The latter includes Jaki Byard/p and Red Rodney/tp-fh for a fun loving “Something To Live For” and “ Bebop” and things get even better when Jordan does a duet with Byard on the wondrous “If I Had You.” They don’t do it like THIS anymore!
Trumpeter Dizzy Reese joins up with Jordan and tenorist Charles Davis (another MIA) for a 78 session that lets the sparks fly on “Woody N You” and “One For Trane” that has the tenor saxes in overdrive. Reese sounds like he means it on “Con Man.” Toe tappers!
Guitarist Sal Salvador is recorded in a pair of 1978 sessions. The first one in June has Salvador with Brignola/bs, Eddie Bert/tb, Derek Smith/p, Sam Jones/b and Mel Lewis/dr for a toe tapping “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Blues In The Closet” while the band strips down for just Salvador and the rhythm team for melodious reads of “Darn That Dream” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The second one is a hip and delectable small group with Joe Morello/dr, Billy Taylor/p and Art Davis/dr for a sublime “For All We Know” and a soulful “Opus De Funk.” A duet with Salvador and Morello on “Tune For Two” is a wonderful handball tournament. This guitarist needs to be rediscovered!
A couple of sessions led by Ronnie Matthews are from 1978 and 1979 with Frank Foster/ts-ss in the front line for a driving “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and a creative “Hi Fly” on the first session. For the ‘79erm bopper Bill Hardman/tp, Ricky Ford/ts (whatever happened to him?), Jimmy Cobb/dr and Walter Booker/b join together for the theme from MASH and “For Once I Loved.” Matthews goes it alone for a lovely and sensitive read of “A Child Is Born” and in trio form delivers a deft “Untitled Blues.” Some overlooked giants are on this one.
Dick Katz teams up with Jimmy Knepper/tb and Frank Wess/ts-fl for an 84 recording for some subtle swing on “A Few Bars For Basie” and a delightful “Friday the 13th.” The horns sit out and Katz does a trio session with Al Harewood/dr and Marc Johnson/b for a snappy “Cousin Mary” and empathetic “Lament.” More piano-led sessions include an ’84 Junior Mance session along with David “Fathead” Newman/ts-fl having some fun with “Birks Works” and Truckin’. ” Sir Roland Hanna is at the helm along with Wess, Ben Riley/dr and George Mraz/b (another forgotten giant) for a rich read of “Wisteria” as well as a brooding “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”
Woody Herman alumnus Sal Nistico chomps at the bit with Brignola, Ted Curson/tp-fh, Matthews, Jones and Haynes for some macho playing on “Blues For K.D” and “Anthropology.” Jones and Haynes then drop out and let the horns go at it on an unforgettable “Like Someone In Love.” Like Neopolitan traffic!
Curtis Fuller leads a 1978 session with Nistico and a hard bop rhythm team, and the horns sound delightful on “Hello Young Lovers” and a bouncy “Blue Monk.” Walter Bishop Jr’s piano on “Yesterdays” is wonderfully moody as well.
Full toned tenor saxist Arnett Cobb is in swinging form with Joe Newman/tp, Al Grey/tb and a rhythm team of Panama Francis/dr, George Duvivier/b and Junior Mance/p on an 84 session. Everyone’s having a great time on “Cheatin’ On Me” and the horns glow on “Stardust.” Cobb lets only Duvivier work on a sublime “Deep River” that flows ebulliently.
And as for Johnny Hartman, he went out in style on this 1980 recording that was to become his swan song in retrospect. He’s with a fantastic front line of Frank Wess/ts-fl, Joe Wilder/tp-fh and Billy Taylor/p, Al Gafa/g, Victor Gaskin/b and Keith Copeland/dr. He’s in super croon mode on “For All We Know” and “I Could Write A Book” while swaying easily on the bossa “Wave” and the bluesy “Easy Living.” Best of all is his duet with “Nobody Home,” “Moonlight in Vermont” and “It Was Almost Like A Song.” Sublime to the end.
The box set also includes a hefty booklet that has some vintage photos of the sessions along with a bit of insight and track by track analysis by Aaron Cohen. If you want to hear the last roar of the gods, here’s a great chance.