One of the overlooked pioneers of jazz bass these days is Oscar Pettiford. Along with Jimmy Blanton, he brought the bass from out of the shadows and into the spotlight, making it an actual solo instrument as opposed to just keeping time. He was also one of the first ones to play the cello in a jazz setting. For various reasons, including his moving to Europe as well as an untimely death at 38, he has been pushed into the background of major historical figures.
This 2 disc set from Uptown Records includes essential and previously unheard sounds from Pettiford from the mid to late 50s. Not only does his nonet, sextet and big band feature the bassist’s incredible chops and lyricism, but the sonic vision of the leader is displayed as he includes both a harpist (Betty Glamann) as well as French horns (David Amram, JIm Buffington, Ed London) to add textures and colors in a way that seem completely logical without a sliver of gimmickry.
As for the other members of the short lived band, you’ve got some of the top of the batting order with Hank Jones/p, Dick Katz/p, Sahib Shihab/bar-as, Donald Byrd/tp, Johnny Coles, Ray Copeland/tp, Joe Wilder/tp, Art Farmer/tp, Jimmy Cleveland/tb, Gene Quill/as, Gigi Gryce/as, JR Montrose/ts, Jerome Richardson/ts-fl, Osie JOhnson/dr and Shadow Wilson/dr just to give a sample. The sounds come from radio broadcasts from Birdland and OP’s Black Pearl, and the sound is excellent for its time; the bass and harp are alarmingly clear.
As for the music itself, well, brace yourself. In the larger band settings, the horns deliver a torrent of energy when they’re featured on “Two French Fries,” and Glamann’s harp is delightfully swinging on “Seventh Heaven”, as does a dreamy “The Gentle Art of Love.” Pettiford shows his allegiance to his days with Duke Ellington with a bebopping read of “Jack The Bear” as well as a breathtaking “Perdido” as well. The rhythm section gets a workout as Wilson and Johnson are featured on their versions of the richly arranged and supercharged “Smoke Signal.” Montrose, Farmer and Cleveland are given plenty of space, and the material by protoboppers Horace Silver (“Speculation”) and Gigi Gryce (“Nica’s Tempo”) is red meat for the soloists.
The smaller group has Pettiford retaining Glamann but having only Johnny Coles/tp and Sahib Shihab/as-bar-fl on the front line along wit Hod O’Brien/p and Earl “Buster” Smith. The team sizzles through “45 Degree Angle” and “Battle Axe” with delicate atmospheres and drips with delight on “Willow Weep For Me” and “Laura” with Pettiford and Glamann.
The fact that these units had such little previously recorded makes this only one of the reasons of it’s importance. The other is that it is SMOKING HOT!! Got to be in the top 3 for Historical Albums of the Year.