Gerry Mulligan meets Tommy Flanagan
Like its exact contemporary stablemates, this reissue reprints the notes from the original (1962) vinyl LP and adds a memoir from a surviving participant, drummer Dave Bailey. A man occasionally on a short fuse, in Bob Brookmeyer’s later experienced and reflected judgment a mode of managing deep-seated anger—the young Brookmeyer couldn’t stand it any longer and precipitated another spasm by leaving their wonderful quartet—Mulligan was sometimes at the uncomfortable opposite extreme from hypocrisy.
Bailey remembers Mulligan paid his men well, even when he cancelled a notable Baltimore gig. I think I’m spelling out the drummer’s account by suggesting that the proprietor of the establishment which had booked the then Mulligan sextet came up to the drummer and bassist and said very nicely that he didn’t like to mix “the races” in his audience. By the italicised phrase I mean speaking in a tone appropriate to friendly conciliation, and roughly equivalent to a pat on the head. You wouldn’t need to be at the mercy of a bad temper to recoil at a refusal to allow some musicians who were [patronising appellation] to fraternise with the high-paying clientèle for the currently prestigious musical ensemble to which they were integral.
Mulligan packed up, and paid his men from the advance. The proprietor had to refund the considerable entrance money to his sellout audience. Though the incident was well before my time, some pleas for a co-operative attitude ought to rankle—but how much more in North America forty years back. Let’s have no necessary unco-operativeness?
This set was Bailey’s baby; he had formed a little company (Jazztime) and it seemed to him that Mulligan’s more ballad-oriented playing hadn’t had adequate exposure on record. Usually Mulligan had shared a front line with another horn, and usually this had been in pianoless quartet recordings. The suggestion that he was thus getting away from the harmonic frame of current 1950s jazz and in an Ornette Coleman melodic development direction seems a bad case of the Whig History of Jazz, that’s to say an account viewing everything worth approval as somehow anticipating subsequent developments. Mulligan did himself acknowledge an enthusiasm for the up-and-down and in-and-out of the contrapuntal ensembles referred to as Dixieland, and indeed he had considerable influence on players who as boys at the time played something of that sort: John Barnes and Roy Williams in England very notably. Brookmeyer’s Traditionalism Revisited album makes the point. Mulligan was a sort of central current player and composer, an intelligent innovator always with a lot behind him.
I won’t exactly pan Joe Goldberg’s 1962 notes on this set, which Bailey taped and would have issued but for Columbia’s great idea at the time to pay him good money for the recording and issue it themselves - Mulligan, it seems, worked for a minimum. I do not, however, like the reference to the pianist Tommy Flanagan’s “good taste”, which is not so far from as bad as saying he didn’t play bum notes. I suppose Flanagan was, as Goldberg said, a friend of Mulligan’s, but I hardly think he got the gig simply as a matter of economic generosity. He was a master even then; hear him on the magnificent Coleman Hawkins/ Eddie Davis Night Hawk set for Prestige, session pianist as co-star.
Mulligan asked for him very wisely, a major pianist whose long-time lack of attention was a result of people not listening, rather than his years as Ella Fitzgerald’s MD. Besides providing support he was an inventive melodist; witness the opening to “Lonely Town”, which begins with piano and saxophone without rhythm, and continues, after Bailey and his mates have joined in, with Flanagan as solo voice. Mulligan comes in with a ballad performance which has nothing of any “cool” school in expression, and plenty echoes of earlier tenor and baritone sax with an individual voice extending Mulligan at some length in the sort of playing his close sideman Bailey seemed to have in mind to record from him.
Flanagan’s importance is plain in the opening ensemble of “Get out of Town” and the preceding closing music of “You’ve Come Home”. He and Mulligan are two front-line voices no less than were Mulligan and Chet Baker, or any other hornman in the pianoless quartet. Mulligan did the harmonic thinking when with Baker; here, Flanagan can take that on, just as the presence of Alec Dorsey on congas beside Bailey (and the longtime simpatico Ben Tucker on bass) takes on some work of maintaining rhythmic accents and letting the vanguard melodists flow. Just think of Mulligan matching with the often quiet pianist, who could also be garlanded with the epithets: unshowy, never acutely emphatic (hence long undervalued), harmonically refined, precise and sensitive in phrasing; alien alike to cliché and the superfluous note. There is a lot to this set, and some legato playing like I have never elsewhere heard from Mulligan.
Nowhere in the packaging/ paperwork are track timings given for this CD. If there had been a second session of equal length it might have been used to supplement the seven tracks of five minutes here. They are all, however, very good; it’s a varied album, around middle pace, and the set is as free of padding as Flanagan’s piano playing. Short time but no waste at all.
Postscript: on a computer, this CD demands to install its own software. Without that, I supposed it couldn’t be played except on a simpler CD player. Then I put the disc in after listening to a normal old CD, and after the Columbia Legacy CD had loaded itself its software was dead but the simpler software on my computer was playing the above CD, Oh, well!
The software does apparently permit transfer of data for storage in adapted form on your own machine, but apparently restricts what else can be done with reformatted tracks. There is some reference to a limited amount of copying being done, and there are icons apparently to be clicked on for copying or burning. Other people are more interested in this than I am. It would be a very nice recording to put on for soothing purposes, but the delay is a nuisance. And if this is the first of the new format Columbia Legacy CDs there’s an even worse delay because you need to reboot your computer.
// Notes from the Road
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