Al Cohn & Zoot Sims: Easy As Pie
Once again, Label M mines the vast resources of jazz performances that Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society sagaciously recorded, knowing that they were hearing unparalleled music in their midst but not knowing that it would entertain jazz listeners thirty-plus years hence. It seems that the Left Bank group was at its best when it recorded horns, and particularly saxophonists. Even on Easy As Pie, Dave Frishberg's piano lacks clarity due to the on-site instrument's limitations. Unfortunately, the same problem occurred on Cedar Walton's Left Bank re-release. However, even in the midst of a cheering and chatting crowd, Al Cohn's and Zoot Sims' saxophones ring through, grabbing the listener posthumously as effectively as they did in person.
Finding like-mindedness and friendship as part of Woody Herman's Four Brothers band (or his Second Herd), Cohn and Sims continued to complement each other through their own quintet throughout the decades. In Baltimore in 1968, the empathy between the musicians had reached a level of supreme musical intuition, one picking up a phrase where the other left off and both of them weaving their phrases together in counterpoint and sudden harmonies. As a result, Easy As Pie the fourth in the "Live At The Left Ban" series, matches Stan Getz' in indispensibility.
Starting off with a two-and-a-half-minute "Tickle Toe," Cohn and Sims engage in a furious and confident colloquy that immediately grabs the audience. Trading phrases and bending notes like crazy before joining the theme in unison, the duo reminds the listener of their ability to attract enthusiastic audiences wherever they played. Cohn's "Mr. George" continues their romp in the same give-and-take approach, each improvising before giving way to the other's interjections.
But the ballads allow them both to pull in the audience, their mastery of the form jointly evident. Like Getz, both of the tenor men knew how to increase dramatic intensity through dynamics or the sustaining of a tone. With a soft initial note that's almost a buzz, Cohn leads into a medley of "These Foolish Things" and "Willow Weep For Me." Both tunes could serve as models of improvisational development, much as Hank Mobley's perfection of form could as well. "Come Rain Or Come Shine" remains a classic for either of the two classic tenor players, as Sims recalls his famous solo with Benny Goodman's Orchestra in its State Department tour of Moscow. Their interpretation of Gary McFarland's "Blue Hodge" refers to Johnny Hodges' famous tone with bent notes and ambling comfort, even though the timbre of the tenor saxophones is lower. The individual solos in the middle of "Blue Hodge" once again are classic in logic and in their emotional connections with the audience.
As a new generation is exposed to the masters of jazz through numerous reissues, let it be known that Easy As Pie, perhaps not as top-of-mind as the others like Louis Armstrong's or Charlie Parker's, deserves serious consideration as well. Not to mention its irresistibility for continued entertainment.
Track Listing: Tickle Toe, Mr. George, These Foolish Things/Willow Weep For Me, John's Bunch, Blue Hodge, Expense Account, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Recado Bossa Nova
Personnel: Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Dave Frishberg, piano; Victor Sproles, bass; Donald McDonald, drums