In August 1954, trombonist Urbie Green was offered a record date by Vanguard Records. Founded by Maynard and Seymour Solomon as a blues and folk label, Vanguard also recorded jazz, thanks to John Hammond, who had begun serving as the label's de facto jazz a&r man in 1953. Green's four-song session for the 10-inch Vanguard LP is positively remarkable.
How perfect was this ensemble? See for yourself: Ruby Braff (tp), Urbie Green (tb), Med Flory (as), Frank Wess (ts,fl), Sir Charles Thompson (p), Freddie Green (g), Aaron Bell (b) and Bobby Donaldson (d)
The connections between the musicians are interesting. Thompson and Freddie Green were bandmates of Urbie Green's in the earlier Buck Clayton Jam Session recordings; Urbie had just played on Med Flory's big band session for EmArcy in February 1954. Aaron Bell worked with Thompson. Urbie Green had subbed for Henry Coker at the last minute on Frank Wess' Commodore date five days earlier. And Ruby Braff had recorded with Green during a Mel Powell jam session at Carnegie Hall concert back in April. Wess and Freddie Green, of course, were Basieites.
What's interesting about the Vanguard LP is that each side featured just two tracks, with each track running six minutes. Most labels at the time had converted to the 10-inch 33 1/3-rpm format but used the disc to house a rash of three-minute singles. Hammond [pictured] at Vanguard was experimenting with a longer form, as were a number of his peers on the East and West coasts.
The four songs on the album are I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good, Lullaby of Birdland, Old Time Modern and Med's Tune. Every track is perfectly executed, with each instrumentalist adding a distinct flavor. You are able to hear Thompson's [pictured] extraordinary choices on the piano, as evidenced by his lush introduction and solos on I Got It Bad. The same goes for Med Flory.
Med delivers a sirloin alto solo on Lullaby of Birdland, followed by a swinging, delicate flight by Frank Wess on flute later on the track. Braff's muted horn is understated, but he offers plenty of punctuating jabs and rolls. Old Time Modern features a relaxed Chicago jazz attack, showcasing Wess and Green. Dig the Basie call and response toward the end.The more you hear from Green, Braff, Wess and Med on this album, the more you wish they had recorded extensively as a unit. [Photo, from left, of Freddie Green, Ruby Braff, Urbie Green, Med Flory and Frank Wess in 1954, by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
Med's Tune is a bop blues with a Basie attitude showcasing the horns. On this track, like the first, you get to hear Flory [pictured] in a New York mode, before he departed for the West Coast in 1956.
The Urbie Green Octet catches eight great jazz musicians just before they went their separate ways. Unfortunately for us, this is the only album they made together.
JazzWax tracks: Originally issued on Vanguard, the tracks turned up on the CD, Blues and Other Shades of Green (Jazzbeat, Spain). The original 10-inch LP is available at eBay, and the four tracks are likely available at download sites.
JazzWax clip: How great are these four tracks? Seriously great. Hear for yourself. Here's Lullaby of Birdland, with Med Flory's' soaring alto solo and Frank Wess' avian flute solo...