We can quibble, but baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan never made a bad recording. Some LPs certainly were better than others, but Mulligan really wasn't capable of delivering a lazy, corner-cutting job. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Mulligan is one of the greatest jazz recording artists of the post-war period in terms of longevity, productivity, consistency and sheer influence. There's no filler with Mulligan, just swinging, melodic soul. [Photo of Gerry Mulligan courtesy of JazzHaus]
Before you start with the emails, think in terms of Mulligan's work as a player, composer, arranger, leader and bar-setter over six decades. From his prolific work with Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill and Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool to the piano-less quartet in Los Angeles, his sextet, the quartet, the Verve years, I Want to Live, the Concert Jazz Band, all of his work in the '60s (Jeru, Night Lights, etc.), Age of Steam in 1971 and beyond. There are few solo artists whose work over this much time was so consistently dynamic and moving. Mulligan, the musician's musician, was born mature.
In November 1977, Mulligan was on tour in Stuttgart, Germany, with Dave Samuels (vibes), Thomas Fay (piano), Mike Santiago (guitar), George Duvivier (bass) and Bobby Rosengarden (drums). Fortunately, Mulligan was recorded in concert at the city's Liederhalle, and the result is out today—Legends Live: Gerry Mulligan Sextet (JazzHaus). What you hear on this new release of material—some previously released, some not—is Mulligan at the top of his game, swinging away with absolute impunity and coiled belligerence.
What's also remarkable about this recording is the vivid fidelity. Everything you hear is distinct and sonically huge. Europe in the '70s was a recording beehive. Engineers there were superb and had the smarts and gear to produce classical-level recordings, mostly for radio broadcasts.
Every ounce of Mulligan's yearning tone and zig-zagging authority is captured here through superb equipment and mike placement. It's the audio equivalent of riding safely on the front grille of an 18-wheel truck. You're so close to the action that it's scary and exhilarating. [Photo above of Gerry Mulligan at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1992 by Brian McMillen]
The label, JazzHaus, has access to the archives of Sudwestrundfunk Stuttgart, Baden-Baden and Mainz—which is quite a treasure trove, since this features all of the SWR jazz programs recorded live on the radio and TV. Except you'd never know that the material was recorded in front of an audience. The CD sounds as though it was recorded in a studio last week. Your ear doesn't have to reach for the music. The musicians are on top of you throughout.
So, what's on this CD? A leonine Line for Lyons, an edgy Idol Gossip, a pensive Night Lights, an Ellington-infused Satin Doll, a spirited K-4 Pacific and others. But the high point is the Mulligan masterpiece Song for Strayhorn, which he first recorded three years earlier at Carnegie Hall in 1974. This track alone is worth the purchase.
JazzWax tracks: Legends Live: Gerry Mulligan Sextet at Liederhalle Stuttgart (November 22, 1977) is available at Amazon. The download is just $5.99.
JazzWax clip: Here's Satin Doll from this recording. You be the judge regarding the fidelity...