In the 1950s and '60s, when American jazz artists performed in Amsterdam, they often appeared at a hall called the Concertgebouw [pictured above]. The concerts were produced by Lou van Rees, the Netherlands' George Wein. Recordings of jazz performances there recently have begun to be released in the Netherlands, but the results are admittedly spotty, with some recordings frustratingly faint.
The sound quality overall isn't marred—but the miking ranges from good to fair. One thing I did on valuable recordings is simply turn up the volume. Here are the four new CD releases and my impressions...
Gerry Mulligan—Western Reunion. In April 1956, the Gerry Mulligan Sextet was in Amsterdam on tour. The ensemble featured Jon Eardley (trumpet), Bob Brookmeyer (valve trombone), Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone), Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone), Bill Crow (bass) and Dave Bailey (drums). That's right, no piano, which means much depended on the counterpoint of the horns behind the soloist to make up for the missing chords of the keyboard.
This sextet was particularly spirited, and the results are the best of the new batch of CDs. Included are songs like Mud Bug, Line for Lyons, Broadway, The Red Door and Westwood Walk. I've always loved this particular band. There was a controlled grace and intensity about the players, who retained Mulligan's original brand of jazz but stretched out beautifully on solos. We even get to hear Mulligan on piano on Nights at the Turntable/Ontet. Fortunately, the miking was very good. Here's a taste...
Various Artists—Star Eyes. Recorded in 1958 in Amsterdam, this concert featured a range of celebrated jazz artists in different configurations. Opening the concert was the Phineas Newborn Trio playing Daahoud, Walkin' and Blue Lou. Then Lee Konitz joined the trio for Star Eyes and Lover Man. Zoot Sims was teamed with the trio next for Sunday and Willow Weep for Me. The Red Garland Trio appeared and took on C Jam Blues and Makin' Whoopee, with Konitz and Sims joining them on Yardbird Suite. Two bonus tracks feature the Oscar Pettiford Trio on Bohemia After Dark and Stardust.
The problem with the Newborn material is that the trio was badly miked, leaving the piano faint. The Konitz tracks are excellent, with Lee in top form. The same is true for Sims. The poor miking issue wasn't resolved when the Red Garland Trio began, but Konitz and Sims with the trio on Yardbird Suite is solid, though a bit flat in terms of excitement. Pettiford's bass on his tracks drowns out the other two players, making you think it's a bass solo throughout—which isn't bad in the hands of someone like Pettiford. I'd say this one is for completists only.
Art Blakey—Justice. The Jazz Messengers were in Amsterdam in November 1959 and again the mikes were poorly placed and the band is spotty—either frantically rushed or puzzlingly calamitous. Unfortunately, most tracks on the two CDs sound as though a single mike was used and placed behind Blakey's kit. This one, too, is really for collectors and completists.
Miles Davis—So What. This material was recorded in April and September 1960 and is probably the most important in the series. The spring concert in Amsterdam featured John Coltrane on tenor sax while the fall tour showcased Sonny Stitt on alto sax. Again, the sound isn't the best, due to poorly placed mikes likely located near the drums and away from the horns.
But hearing this group on the road offers a number of revelations. You turn it up and hear Davis in creative idle while Coltrane digs in deep. More important are the Stitt tracks. He soars on standards and bop works, but on So What you actually hear Stitt struggle to figure out what he's supposed to do with such unfamiliar modal fare. It's like listening to the wheels of a sports car spin on ice. Of course, Davis and Stitt had numerous spats on this tour over Stitt's bop approach to music that clearly was a step ahead.
Interestingly, if you look at a photo of the Concertgebouw, you will see the audience seated behind the performers. I'm assuming this is where the person holding the microphone was located, off to the left where the drums were set up. For me, the winners among the new releases are the Mulligan CD and the two-CD Davis album.
JazzWax tracks: These albums aren't available in the U.S. but can be ordered from The Jazz Messengers online retailer in Barcelona. You'll find Gerry Mulligan's Western Reunion here, Lee Konitz and others on Star Eyes here, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Justice here and Miles Davis' So What here.