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As stellar American jazz musicians traversed Europe, they often took their places onstage among boom mics strategically placed for recording. European audiences seemed unable to get enough, even with efficient overseas distribution of American record labels.
The two-CD Bill EvansLive at Ronnie Scott’s is third in a series of Resonance recordings documenting the six-month, 1968 tenure of the lyrical pianist’s trio featuring bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. While Gomez remained for 11 years, it is 25-year-old DeJohnette’s abbreviated inclusion that elicits much interest. Up until these discoveries, only one such recording had been released: the Grammy-winning Live in Montreux. This later London gig lasted an entire month, allowing for considerable coalescence. On a solo-laden repertoire of standards such as “Autumn Leaves” and “Yesterdays,” and Evans originals including “Very Early” and “Waltz for Debby,” DeJohnette’s drumming is more assertive than the trio’s predecessors (with the exception of Philly Joe Jones), foreshadowing a path that Evans would take throughout his remaining years — less introspective, more assured and more aggressively swinging.
Saxophonist Sonny Rollins seldom produced a studio recording that measured up to his live dates. His previously unreleased, two-disc Rollins in Holland (Resonance), from 1967, opens with four studio cuts lacking the drive and intensity of the remaining seven concert tracks. Performing with Dutch stalwarts Ruud Jacobs on bass and Han Bennink on drums, Rollins free-wheels his way through 11 tracks, three of which surpass the 19-minute mark (“Three Little Words,” “Love Walked In,” “Four”). Absence of a chordal instrument was advantageous to Rollins — truly a stream-of-consciousness player — allowing him considerable harmonic freedom. That Rollins was delighted to have this material finally released speaks volumes, and the sumptuous package contains a booklet of illuminating essays, interviews and photos.
European jazz fans had an ongoing love affair with Chet Baker despite the trumpeter-vocalist’s drug-related arrests and deportations. Baker hit his musical peak during the 1950s, yet his discography is duly expansive throughout his final, Europe-based decade. One of his better latter-day releases, the single-disc Wolfgang Lackerschmid-Chet BakerQuintet Sessions 1979 (Dot Time), features the excellent German vibraphonist Lackerschmid along with an American dream team: guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Tony Williams. More expressive than its predecessor, Ballads for Two, Quintet Sessions maintains Baker’s rep as one of the quieter trumpeters. During a set list of originals and one standard (“Here’s That Rainy Day”), even Williams’ funky “Mr. Biko” finds Baker barely putting enough air through his horn to maintain pitch. Coryell’s “Rue Gregoire du Tour” is a standout, a breezy 6/4 tune with Baker executing impressive double-time lines reminiscent of his younger days.
If one sideman was bassist-composer Charles Mingus’ right-hand man, it was drummer Dannie Richmond, whose tenure provides the rhythmic impetus behind the four CDs of Charles Mingus: Bremen 1964 & 1975 (Sunnyside). In author Brian Priestley’s Mingus: A Critical Biography, Richmond deems Mingus’ 1964 sextet “the first band,” and his 1975 quintet, “the second band,” heralding these two groups as Mingus’ finest. The much rawer 1964 sextet is renowned, featuring saxophonists Eric Dolphy and Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Johnny Coles, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Richmond. Four of six songs (“Hope So Eric,” “Fables of Faubus,” “Parkeriana,” “Meditations on Integration”) clock in at more than 20 electrifying minutes each.
Mingus’ more polished 1975 quintet highlights excellent improvisations by trumpeter Jack Walrath, saxophonist George Adams, pianist Don Pullen and Richmond. The leader manages group spontaneity throughout, especially on the 33-minute “Sue’s Changes.” The remaining nine songs are shorter, including “Free Cell Block F, ’Tis Nazi USA” (interesting song choice for Germany) and “Remember Rockefeller at Attica,” both of which are straightahead blowing tunes. — James Rozzi