Back by popular demand is my digital sack-of-wax discoveries at iTunes (or Amazon). Unlike the record stores of old, where you could run your fingers briskly along the tops of CDs in the bins while consulting your dog-eared wanted list, iTunes is more of a blind hunt. Whenever I scour the downloads for hidden treasure, I have no idea what I'm looking for or what I'll find. Many LPs from way back when now go by different names or have been combined with one or two others.
Last time around (May 22, 2008), I came across five albums I thought weren't available digitally or were never going to be issued anytime soon in that format. Yesterday I went download diving again at iTunes and again came up lucky. Here are five more masterpieces and the reasons why they are so special:
Two Jims and Zoot (1964)—Before owner Bob Shad turned Mainstream Records into a reissue label in the mid-1960s, he dreamed up some killer sessions and made them happen. One of these fantasies was to pair tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims with guitarists Jimmy Raney and Jim Hall. Add Steve Swallow on bass and Osie Johnson on drums, and you have one superb swinger. In addition to hearing Zoot in a breezy mood, you'll have a blast picking out Raney's solos from Hall's and listening to each guitarist back the other. The album's title says it all—it's really the two Jims' record date with Zoot along for kicks and licks.
Dues (1964)—This Maynard Ferguson album for Mainstream was another Bob Shad dream job. Except the original LP wasn't called Dues. It was called Color Him Wild. Why it's now called Dues is beyond me—unless it's one of those Euro-lifts renamed to slide into iTunes undetected. This is Maynard just after his heroic Roulette period and right on the heels of his Cameo dates. His 1964 band had all the brass punch of the late-1950s ensembles. This album features one of Maynard's last pure big band sessions, before the trumpeter started shaking his groove thing. Sample Green Dolphin Street at iTunes and see for yourself. The album is flawless.
A Buck Clayton Jam Session (1975)—Buck loved jam sessions and recorded seven different albums in this format between 1953 and 1976. Each featured the very best jazz musicians available at the time. In 1975, he arranged the second of what would become three different jam-session albums for the Chiaroscuro Records label. This date featured Joe Newman and Harold "Money" Johnson on trumpets; Vic Dickenson and George Masso on trombones; Earl Warren and Lee Konitz on alto saxes; Buddy Tate, Sal Nistico and Budd Johnson on tenor saxes; Tommy Flanagan on piano; Milt Hinton on bass; and Mel Lewis on drums. (Before you read on, take another look at the sax section.) The reedwork on Glassboro Blues alone is a trip, proving that Buck could write as well as he blew.
Terry Gibbs (1955)—This EmArcy release originally was called Seven Comes Eleven, and it swings all the way through. Gibbs had a crisp, precise attack on the vibraphone and was considered the bop heir to Lionel Hampton's swing thing. Gibbs not only pounded a ton of music out of the instrument, his phrasing and ideas were always high energy and sharp. You listen to this album and it's impossible to keep your knees from bouncing up and down. Behind Gibbs were Terry Pollard on piano, Herman Wright on bass and Bert Dahlander on drums. On the first track, Seven Comes Eleven, there are two pianists. While Pollard fills, Gibbs sits in and hammers the ivories with his fingers as if he were using mallets. His piano work is something to behold.
Flying Home: Best of the Verve Years (1951-58)—With all the legendary tenor saxophonists running around in the 1950s, it's easy to forget how special Illinois Jacquet was. He had a sound that was influenced by both Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, depending on his mood. And the bands Jacquet led were always cranked up to the max. This album is a collection of sessions for Norman Granz's labels spanning the 1950s. There are a number of gems here, including Lean Baby (1952), which you sense influenced Frank Sinatra's feel for his Capitol single recorded in April 1953. Another rarity is Boot 'em Up (1952), featuring Jacquet's big band at the time made up of many Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie veterans. To give you a sense of how incredible this band was, dig the personnel: Russell Jacquet, Joe Newman, Lammar Wright and Elmon Wright on trumpets; Matthew Gee and Henry Coker on trombones; Earl Warren and Ernie Henry on alto saxes; Lowell "Count" Hastings and Illinois Jacquet on tenor saxes; Cecil Payne on baritone sax; Johnny Acea on piano; Freddie Green on guitar and Shadow Wilson on drums. To top it off, A.K. Salim was the arranger!