Duke Pearson, Andrew Hill, Don Pullen, Randy Weston, McCoy Tyner: Pianists of the Mosaic Select Series
Does limited edition always translate to music of outstanding quality? In the Mosaic Select series more often than not it does. There are, however, some discs that are stimulating without being outstanding, and even a rare set catching an artist's career at its low point.
This variation in standard is apparent in the six triple-CD box sets representing five pianists reviewed below. It should be noted that the audio quality on all these recordings is impeccable and meets the very high standards expected from the Mosaic label. The liner notes are informative and the cover art of the original LPs are also replicated.
Mosaic Select: Duke Pearson
Every jazz aficionado is familiar with Duke Pearson's work. He was the musical director for Blue Note Records during the label's most successful phase. He was also an accomplished arranger, a superlative composer and a talented pianist and improviser in his own right. His tunes became standards and his records like Wahoo (Blue Note, 1964) and The Right Stuff (Blue Note, 1967) became classics of hard bop. Mosaic Select Volume 8 is dedicated to his last years at Blue Note Records, which were also his last years recording. The financial woes that led to the original label's demise had already started and there were attempts to make more commercial music.
The set contains all 5 of Pearson's last albums. The music is inspired by bossa nova and other Latin styles but there is a definite decline in quality as one listens on through the whole set. The first 7 tracks are from the The Phantom (Blue Note, 1968), a record that still bears signs of Pearson's superior arranging skills, and the solos are beautifully complexespecially the ones by flutist Jerry Dodgion, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and the leader himself. The music, composed by Pearson and Dodgion except for the last track, is light on substance on a few occasions but the interplay of the ensemble elevates it to a solid Latin-inspired hard bop album.
The rest of the set that compiles the remaining 4 LPs is so light to almost be devoid of substance. The vocals distract from the rest of the music and, as the tracks progress chronologically, there is definite decline in the quality ending with (gasp!) a Christmas album. The music becomes less jazz and more instrumental pop (although not quite Kenny G-esque) with touches of disco beats almost approaching, on the last two, the form of dinner music. Although most of these records are unavailable otherwise than on CD, and this compilation fills a historical gap in the career of a talented musician, a better selection of material, such as Pearson's first five records for Blue Note, would have done more justice to his genius and talent.
Mosaic Select: Andrew Hill - Solo
Almost as an antithesis to the Duke Pearson box arn two Andrew Hill box sets, made up of almost entirely of unreleased material. Three hours of previously unreleased music make up this solo piano set. Most of the tracks are originals inspired by different places in Northern California. The music is very contemplative, impressionistic, and on the surface a bit atonal, but it follows its own harmonic logic. For example the 3rd track on disc two, "Above Big Sur," uses music to invoke the images of the waves crashing and the natural beauty of one of the loveliest places on earth.
Hill introduces elements of both traditional blues and the avant-garde in his improvisations. His use of pauses is masterful but not abundant and they are there to underscore the importance of the notes he plays. He also brings in a classical sensibility to his improvisation, especially when he plays long arpeggio lines, sounding a bit like a post-bop version of Art Tatum with a hint of the bop masters. As always it is the original sound of Andrew Hill that comes across as dominant throughout. The entire set is thematically unified and the two standards fit in well with the original tunes.
Those familiar with Hill's Blue Note work know of his outstanding skills as a composer, arranger and leader but maybe not so much about his abilities as a pianist. This set with its never before released material is therefore an essential addition to his discography, highlighting an aspect of his musicianship that has been seldom exhibited.
Mosaic Select: Andrew Hill
The other Andrew Hill set brings together mostly unreleased material recorded between 1967-1970. This set is a culmination of Hill's work at Blue Note and in a way it weaves together all the trends of his work into an ultimate whole. The music on the first set (most of the mostly on the first disc) is edgy hard bop that flirts with both modal styles and avant-garde jazz. It is reminiscent of Hill's Black Fire (Blue Note, 1963) record. The compositions are complex but not rigid, allowing the talented side musicians ample room to solo and improvise.
The second set, that ends the first disc and takes up over half of the second is darker, more brooding and more in the modal vein, augmented by a string quartet. Here the music is similar to Hill's Passing Ships (Blue Note, 1968) and Dance with Death (Blue Note, 1969) records. There are a lot of interesting and original improvisations by all the musicians on the date, not only by the reeds and horns. In addition there is a strong emphasis on interplay between the string quartet and Hill's piano.
The next set, that ends the second disc and starts the last one, is all out avant-garde music with complex free flowing solos and equally complex musical interplay. Hill plays Hammond B3 and soprano saxophone in addition to his usual piano and although he is not a virtuoso on either the saxophone or the organ, his use of those instruments here blends seamlessly with the rest of the music. The set ends with a series of numbers that run the gamut from bluesy, edgy, hard bop to modal to avant-garde and sort of summarizes and concludes the whole set and his whole Blue Note career.
Mosaic Select: Don Pullen
To say that Don Pullen is underrated is an understatement in of itself. One listen to the Mosaic Select set is enough to convince that he does not deserve to be as obscure as he is. Multiple listens enable the discovery of new nuances. Pullen is teamed up on the first part of the set with his long time musical partner George Adams whose sound on the tenor, although influenced by John Coltrane, is singular and easily recognizable.
Pullen's piano style is extremely innovative too, and quite possibly the most unique to emerge since that of Thelonious Monk. His circular, for lack of a better term, playing is deeply rooted in blues, gospel and bop but has its branches in modal and freer forms of the music. Critics have used the moniker "accessible avant-garde" to describe his music. Whatever that means, Pullen's music, both composed and improvised, is complex and stimulating and at the same time highly mellifluous. This set is a career summation, a hefty slice of Pullen's best work, and it allows him to be heard both in a quartet setting with tenor saxophone and in a trio setting backed by giants like drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter.
Mosaic Select: Randy Weston
Randy Weston is well known for his innovative African-inspired compositions and his virtuoso piano playing. His Mosaic Select set concentrates on his transition from a bop-based, adventurous composer and player to his first forays into African music. Although his best work was still to come, this high quality music is both historically important as far as his career is concerned and is a thorough multifaceted portrait.
The first set is a sextet date of bluesy, bop based, innovative music and offers the additional pleasure of a rare solo by trombonist Melba Liston (who became Weston's musical partner as an arranger). The second is in a similar vein but is a live. There's one weak point: an operatic vocal number by Brock Peters that closes the set and the first CD. Peters is an able vocalist but the singing seems out of place with the rest of the music and now sounds very dated.
The second CD also has two dates on it; one is a trio date that finds Weston exhibiting his advancing skills as a composer and developing his unique sound as a pianist and an improviser. The music includes complex interplay among the three musicians and also a series of high quality solos. Two of the numbers are piano solos further underscoring Weston's improvisational skills. The second set is a previously unreleased quartet date with baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. Again one hears Weston's continuous growth as a composer and a musician away from narrow bop based formulas to a more unique and wider sound. The additional bonus of course is hearing Payne, an infrequently recorded, master of the baritone saxophone.
The third CD contains Weston's first two big band, African-inspired records; Uhuru Africa (Blue Note, 1960) and Highlife (Blue Note, 1961). The bands are full of jazz music's notables, with high quality solos emerging out of a multilayered, complex and highly mellifluous blend of jazz and African traditional music. The arrangements are again by Liston and, apart from a dated and forgettable vocal duet on the first set, are gems of world music fused with jazz. Although Weston's best work was yet to come the music on this set, despite its minor faults, is an excellent introduction to the work of an innovative genius.
Mosaic Select: McCoy Tyner
If Weston's set introduced us to his work leading to and including his African influenced music, McCoy Tyner's concentrates on his Asian-inspired compositions that were initially released between 1968-1970. The music, especially on the first 2 CDs of this set, is modal in structure, intense and dark in mood with quite a bit of Japanese and Indian musical imprints. The first set is characterized by a unique sound often created by the use of wooden flute and bowed cello, which with bass and drums adds to the bottom heavy sound of the ensemble. The music is still firmly rooted in the western tradition with only hints of Asian influences. The solos by all are outstanding and blend well with the ensemble but the soloist who shines above all is the leader whose piano, still under the influence of Coltrane, produces sheets of sound.
The second set is divided between a trio and a group composed of soprano saxophone and flute for the horn section and string quartet-augmented rhythm section. The music starts sounding more eastern and Tyner's piano notes become a bit sparser. The compositions are as complex as before and still in a dark, intense, modal vein. Harold Vick's soprano solos stand out. Vick is known as a standard hard bop tenor player but on this set he shows that his talents exceed the formulaic nature of some of the hard bop sessions of the era.
The third set is the most creative of the lot and is the one that has the clearest Asian imprint. Alice Coltrane on harp, who brings an atmospheric moodiness to the whole ensemble, augments the rhythm section. The great Elvin Jones is on the drums and he drives the rhythm section to complex expressions. Tyner's piano stands out less on this set but his solos are not any less creative. The last two sessions that make up the third CD are still enjoyable but are the weaker of the batch. Especially the last one, that has titles hinting more towards African influences, though the actual music sounds like 1970s fusion. The first session on the third CD continues the Asian themes but it is a bit light-weight and the front line of alto, flute and oboe does not produce the same intense effect that the earlier pairing of flute and soprano does. The compositions are still in the modal vein and quite complex and spacious.
The last of the sessions is very different from the rest of the set because it is more rock-jazz fusion oriented and focuses more on the ensemble playing than on individual solos. The addition of vocals and electric guitar gives it a dated quality; it does not engage enough to transcend the impact of its time period. It is a curious addition but the weakest set in the group. The music here is not necessarily Tyner's best work but it has plenty of interesting moments especially on the second CD and is of historical importance.
In conclusion the music on these 5 sets, with one exception, is at the very least intriguing and of historical importance.
Tracks and Personnel
Mosaic Select: Duke Pearson
Tracks: The Phantom; Blues For Alvina; Bunda Amerela (Little Yellow Streetcar; Los Ojos Alegres; Say You're Mine; The Moana Surf; Theme From Rosemany's Baby; I Don't Know; Captain Bicardi; Dialogo; Xibaba; Once I Loved (O Amor En Paz); Gira, Girou (Round And Round); Hermeto; Lost In The Stars; It Could Only Happen With You; Stormy; Book's Bossa; Emily; Bloos; I Don't Care Who Knows It; A Beautiful Friendship; Horn In; Canto Ossanha; Sandalia Dela; Tears; Lamento; Upa Neguinho; Stella By Starlight; Clara; Give Me Some Love; Christo Redentor; Little Song; My Love Waits (O Meu Amor Espera); How Insensitive; Sleigh Ride; Little Drummer Boy; Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Jingle Bells; Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; Go Tell It To The Mountain; Wassail Song; Silent Night; O Little Town Of Bethlehem; Old Fashioned Christmas.
Personnel: Burt Collins, Joe Shepley: trumpet; Kenny Rupp: trombone; Jerry Dodgion, Al Gibbons: flute, alto flute, alto sax; Hermeto Pascoal: flute, guitar, bass; Frank Foster, Lew Tabackin, tenor sax; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes; Dorio Ferreira, Theo, Ralph Towner, Wally Richardson, Sam Brown, Al Gafa: guitars; Duke Pearson: piano, celeste, electric piano; Bebeto Jose Souza, Ron Carter, Bob Cranshaw: bass; Mickey Roker: drums; Airto Moreira, Victor Pantojo, Carlos "Patato" Valdes: congas, percussion; Andy Bey, Flora Purim, Stella Mars: vocals; New York Group Singers' Big Band Jack Manno: choral conductor.
Mosaic Select: Andrew Hill - Solo
Tracks: Moonlit Monterey; 17 Mile Drive; Gone With The Wind; I Remember Clifford; Moonlit Monterey (alt take); California Tinge; Napa Valley Twilight; Above Big Sur; An Afternoon In Berkeley; California Tinge (first version); From California With Love; Reverend Du Bop; Pastoral Pittsburg; Pittsburg Impasse.
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano.
Mosaic Select: Andrew Hill
Tracks: Without Malice; Ocho Rios; Diddy Wah; Ode To Infinity; The Dance; Satin Lady; Ocho Rios; Monkash; Mahogany; Illusion; Poinsettia; Fragments; Soul Mate; Interfusion; Resolution; Chained; MOMA; Nine At The Bottom; Six At The Top; Nine At The Bottom (alternate take); For Blue People Only; Enamorado; Mother's Tale; Oriba (first version); Oriba (second version); Awake; Now; I; Yomo; Prevue.
Personnel: Andrew Hill: piano, organ, soprano sax; Woody Shaw, Charles Tolliver: trumpet; Pat Patrick: flute, alto clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax; Bennie Maupin: flute, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Robin Kenyatta: alto sax; Sam Rivers: soprano sax, tenor sax; Howard Johnson: baritone sax, tuba; Ron Carter, Cecil McBee, Herbie Lewis: bass; Teddy Robinson, Paul Motian, Ben Riley: drums; Nadi Qamar: percussion; Sanford Allen: violin; Selwart Clarke, Booker Rowe: viola; Kermit Moore: cello.
Mosaic Select: Don Pullen
Tracks: Mr. Smoothie; Just Foolin' Around; Song From The Old Country; We've Been Here All The Time; A Time For Sobriety; The Necessary Blues (or Thank You Very Much, Mr. Monk); Sun Watchers; Serenade To Sariah; 1529 Gunn Street (For Johnny Holloway); Warm Up; Sing Me A Song Everlasting (For EBU and Hamiet Bluiett); Another Reason To Celebrate; Jana's Delight; Once Upon A Time; Warriors; New Beginnings; At The Cafe Centrale; Reap The Whirlwind; Andre's Ups And Downs; Randon Thoughts; Indio Gitano; The Dancer (For Diane McIntyre); Endangered Species: African American Youth; 626 Fairfax; Ode To Life (For Maurice Quesnell); Silence = Death.
Personnel: George Adams: tenor sax; Don Pullen: piano; Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Cameron Brown, bass; Tony Williams, Lewis Nash, Dannie Richmond: drums.
Mosaic Select: Randy Weston
Tracks:Earth Birth; Little Susan; Nice Ice; Little Niles; Pam's Waltz; Babe's Blues; Let's Climb A Hill; Hi Fly; Beef Blues Stew; Star Crossed Lovers; Spot Five Blues; Lisa Lovely; Where; Earth Birth; Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen; Saucer Eyes; I Got Rhythm; Gingerbread; Cocktails For Two; Honeysuckle Rose; Fe-Double-U Blues; Portrait Of Patsy J; Uncle Nemo; Cry Me Not; Honk Honk; Saucer Eyes; 204; C.B. Blues; Introduction: Uhuru Kwanza; First Movement: Uhuru Kwanza; Second Movement: African Lady; Third Movement: Bantu; Fourth Movement: Kucheza Blues; Caban Bamboo Highlife; Niger Mambo; Zulu; In Memory Of; Congolese Children; Blues To Africa; Mystery Of Love.
Personnel: Randy Weston: piano; Idrees Sulieman, Ray Copeland, Kenny Dorham: trumpet; Melba Liston: trombone; Johnny Griffin, Coleman Hawkins: tenor saxophone; Cecil Payne: baritone sax; George Joyner (Jamil Nasser), Wilbur Little: bass; Charlie Persip, Roy Haynes: drums; Babatunde Olatunji, Candido Camero, Armando Peraza: percussion; Martha Flowers, Brock Peters: vocals; and others.
Mosaic Select: McCoy Tyner
Tracks: Vision; Song Of Happiness; Smitty's Place; Peresina; I Thought I'd Let You Know; Planet X; Vibration Blues; Song For My Lady; Cosmos; Shaken, But Not Forsaken; Message From The Nile; The Wanderer; Survival Blues; His Blessings; Forbidden Land; Asian Lullaby; Hope; Malika; Asante; Goin' Home; Fulfillment.
Personnel: McCoy Tyner: piano; Buster Williams, Herbie Lewis: bass; Elvin Jones, Freddie Waits: drums; Alice Coltrane: harp; Wayne Shorter, Harold Land: soprano sax; Al Gibbons: reeds, flute; Gary Bartz: alto sax, wooden flute; Ron Carter, Kermit Moore: cello; Julian Barber, Emanuel Green: violin; Gene Orloff: viola; Andrew White: oboe, alto sax; Ted Dunbar: guitar; Billy Hart, Mtume: percussion; Songai Sandra Smith: vocals.