Gerry Mulligan is easily one of jazz's most underrated artists and composer-arrangers. The word "underrated" may seem strange when applied to an established monster like Mulligan, but think about it: Here's a guy who arranged for Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis and Elliot Lawrence before heading West in 1952 and starting the piano-less quartet with Chet Baker.
Then came his ambitious tentet followed by his swinging sextet with Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims—all while arranging for Stan Kenton and many others. And this is before his concert band. Not nearly enough has been said in praise of this baritone saxophonist and how his pen influenced all corners of jazz over time.
A box that supports all of the statements made above is Mosaic Select: Gerry Mulligan (Mosaic Records), a three-CD set that features his work for Pacific Jazz at the end of 1957 in New York. Remastered here are Gerry Mulligan Quartet Reunion With Chet Baker, The Gerry Mulligan Songbook, Gerry Mulligan with the Vinnie Burke String Quartet and Annie Ross Sings a Song With Mulligan.
What makes this set particularly special is that the stereo Songbook tracks are released here for the first time (the single CD that has been out for years features only mono tracks) and that five previously unreleased Vinnie Burke tracks are now in place.
At this point you're probably wondering when these albums were recorded. All in December 1957, which further proves my point made at the top of this post. Dig this: Mulligan records part of Reunion on Dec. 3. On the 4th and 5th he records Songbook. But there's time left on the 5th so he records all nine of the tracks for the Burke date. On the 8th, he's at CBS taping The Sound of Jazz. On the 11th and 15th, he finishes the Reunion session and records all of the Annie Ross tracks. That's 13 days of intensive, flawless recording. What did you do over the past two weeks? [Photo at top, right, of Gerry Mulligan by Bob Willoughby]
Reunion is pure poetry. On tracks like Travelin' Light, Mulligan is in the sub-basement of his instrument, creating a delightful set up for Baker's spare, pensive trumpet. Jersey Bounce, The Song Is You and Star Dust are particularly well executed. Bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Dave Bailey round out the quartet.
Songbook was arranged by Bill Holman and features one of the great sax sections: Lee Konitz, Allen Eager, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Mulligan. The stereo tracks have a bit more dimension than the mono ones, and the reedy fugue-like counterpoint is exciting and exceptional.
Vinnie Burke String Quartet is fascinating on many levels. Though an arranger isn't listed, one assumes Mulligan handled those duties given how cleverly the guitar, violin, cello and bass were scored. What's more, the arrangements never allow the group to sound classical. Instead, the violin and cello have almost a brass feel as they work in and out of their lines. While four tracks appeared on the mono release on Songbook, Body and Soul, I'll Remember April, Lullaby in Rhythm, Out of Nowhere and I Can't Get Started are here for the first time. They were part of a project called Stringtime, which for some reason was never released.
Annie Ross Sings a Song With Mulligan was recorded by Ross just after Sing a Song of Basie wrapped and just before the album made her, Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks a vocalese singing sensation. This Time the Dream's on Me, The Lady's in Love With You, I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans, This Is Always and I've Grown Accustomed to His Face are major works and one happy marriage between vocalist and instrumentalists.
Ross [pictured] was on top of her game in '57, and she sounds lithe and relaxed—as though she's sitting on Mulligan's lap and absentmindedly twirling his hair with a finger. But the more you hear this session, the more you realize how difficult it must have been to sing in this care-free fashion with only Mulligan, Baker, Grimes and Bailey wandering around in the background on their instruments.
Ultimately, Mulligan's Pacific Jazz sessions from December 1957 provide us with a startling snapshot that demonstrates in a two-week period just how extraordinary Mulligan was and remains.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Mosaic Select: Gerry Mulligan (Mosaic Records), a three-CD set, here.
JazzWax clip: From an LP copy of Annie Ross Sings a Song With Mulligan, here she is singing The Lady's in Love With You backed by Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Henry Grimes and Dave Bailey...