I want to share with you five terrific albums I discovered hidden away at iTunes. The fact that I have to root around for music in hit or miss fashion speaks volumes about how we shop for music these days. Back in the good old days (five years ago), you'd walk into a large record store and spend hours going through the CDs of different jazz artists. If you were lucky, the headphones at each listening station worked, and you could listen to unfamiliar releases.
Today, there is no atmosphere or structure associated with music shopping. While downloads are convenient and sound great when played through the right equipment, it's almost impossible to browse the way we used to. Someone out there should create a Second Life for jazz collectors. In my mind's eye, this virtual environment would feature a record store where you could browse the bins just as you did at Tower, HMV or Colony—except you'd do so on your computer. In the virtual space, you would be able to choose your own retail template and decade!
Now that I've gotten that silly fantasy off my chest, here are my five little-known, must-own download picks of the week:
1. Osie Johnson—Osie's Oasis (1955). This album originally was called The Happy Jazz of Osie Johnson and was released originally on Period Records. This download includes drummer Osie Johnson leading a quintet, sextet and octet. The quintet includes Benny Powell on trombone, Frank Wess on tenor sax and flute, Dick Katz on piano and Eddie Jones on bass. The sextet date features Thad Jones on trumpet, Bill Hughes on trombone, Frank Wess on tenor sax and flute, Dick Katz on piano and Milt Hinton on bass. The octet combines Abdul Salaam and Thad Jones on trumpets, Henry Coker on trombone, Ernie Wilkins on alto sax, Frank Wess on tenor sax and flute, Charlie Fowlkes on baritone sax and Wendell Marshall on bass.
2. Johnny Frigo—I Love John Frigo, He Swings (1957). Violinist Johnny Frigo is one of the only jazz fiddlers I can tolerate, probably because he comes to the instrument with a spirited bop feel rather than sticky sentimentalism. This album originally was released by Mercury and features Frigo, Dick Marx on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Norm Jeffries on drums. All of the tracks swing, and you never feel as if you're being serenaded in a restaurant.
3. Herb and Lorraine Geller—The Gellers (1955). Three years before Lorraine Geller died suddenly of a heart ailment just shy of her 30th birthday, she and her husband and alto saxophonist Herb Geller recorded this album for EmArcy. Half the album is made up of originals and half standards. Lorraine's playing was never better. The rest of the quartet featured Red Mitchell on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.
4. Harold Land—A Lazy Afternoon (1994). Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and Billie Holiday all recorded albums with strings that went on to become classics. Add to the list tenor saxophonist Harold Land, backed here by a full orchestra lushly arranged and conducted by Ray Ellis of Lady in Satin fame. Many jazz fans are unaware of this hidden gem, recorded originally for the Postcards label. Ellis' warm charts give Land plenty of room to wander and develop pastoral lines. Many of the songs selected for the date were recorded back in 1958 by Billie Holiday for Lady in Satin and the contrasting treatments make for interesting listening.
5. Lionel Hampton—Crazy Rhythm (1955). The four lengthy tracks on this download originally were recorded in Paris for the French Barclay label and released here on EmArcy. While there's no such thing as a bad Lionel Hampton album, this one has a little extra kick and bite. The band includes Nat Adderley, Benny Bailey and Bernard Hulin on trumpets; Dave Amram on French horn; Maurice Meunier on clarinet and tenor sax; William Boucaya on baritone sax; Hamp on vibes; Rene Urtreger on piano; Sacha Distel on guitar; Guy Pedersen on bass; and Andre Baptiste Reilles on drums.
Back in November 2007, David Amram told me in an interview how this session came to be:
"I was playing jazz French horn at a club [in Paris] when vibraphonist Lionel Hampton came in to listen. He soon wound up on stage jamming with us. Afterward he asked me if I wanted to record with him, Nat Adderley, Benny Bailey and a bunch of terrific French musicians that included pianist Rene Urtreger. I said I’d be honored. The session was held on March 19 for the Barclay label, and it was thrilling. It was my first recording session, and all of the tunes that day were done in one or two takes. There was no music. We just went in and played."
The Crazy Rhythm download features only four of the eight songs recorded that day. You can pick up two more for 99 cents each on two other albums. You'll find Hampton's Voice of the North on Jazz in Paris No. 45: Lionel Hampton and His French New Sound, Vol. 1 and the band's recording of All the Things You Are on Volume 2. You'll only be missing I Cover the Waterfront and Zebu, which are available only if you download the albums. Unfortunately, Amazon has the same limitations on its mp3 download of the same songs. Let me know if you find a way online to download the remaining two.