Gerry Mulligan and Billy Taylor: Live at MCG

Gerry Mulligan and Billy Taylor
Live at MCG
MCG Jazz

From the archives of the concert venue of the commendable Pittsburg centre for the fostering of jazz (Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild) comes this 1993 live recording of the widely talented and long lamented Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax. He’s billed along with a pianist who was also active in the 1940s, and has survived Mulligan by a long time.

Where Mulligan’s work as an instrumentalist has always seemed the richer for carrying over virtues of early ’40s swing through later ’40s bop-influenced idioms, Billy Taylor’s case has been the opposite. Modernising rather deprived him of individualising elements in his playing, and while his technical accomplishment was always exceptional, and he’s been a major figure in jazz education for decades, he’s very good but not a front rank jazz pianist.

With the closer for exception, the programme here is standards. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is taken at a relatively gentle tempo, with consequent maximisation of swing and room for thought. Mulligan’s at his most mellow, especially when he proceeds to open “Just You, Just Me”, where the relaxation is palpable. Carl Allen was a terrific drummer even fourteen years ago, and on this recording the worth of Chip Jackson as longtime bassist in Taylor’s trio is plain.

“Darn That Dream” is the first of a few ballads, with Mulligan in great form, and Taylor’s behind-the-beat phrasing and fondness for a full sound to each note a good match. Like Teddy Wilson in his later years, Taylor can sometimes seem in two minds, between playing jazz and some other form of concert music. At the start of “All the Things You Are” the pianist really does get a little near a non-jazz style, but this duet without bass or drums soon becomes much more interesting. When Taylor goes into multinote extravagance after some straightforward solo choruses, Mulligan re-enters and there’s a considerable display of empathy in the way the whole performance lifts. It’s the quartet again for “Laura”, with Mulligan’s ballad-playing exceptional.

His lightness of touch and Allen’s compelling swing distinguish Mulligan’s own “Line for Lyons”, relaxed and delightful. Here, Taylor’s fingers seem warmer, and he’s a little reminiscent of Tommy Flanagan, with Allen pushing hard. Jackson’s bass solo sounds as if it was waiting to get out, and the lively energy is striking.

The bassist’s also to the fore in “Body and Soul”, further evidence of Mulligan’s inventiveness and power of saying tender things on his large instrument. For some choruses Taylor applies his immense technique in middle-register chording with the phrasing and even sound of an electric guitar.

“Indiana” has a short piano intro, then Mulligan picks up pace, bassist and drummer to the fore. “Come Sunday” has a flowery intro from Taylor before Mulligan enters with a perfect statement of the theme, and as moving an improvisation as one hopes for from an absolute master of his instrument. Jackson’s work is very important, and the harmonies of that Ellingtonian number feed Taylor with what he needs to do some of his best playing on this set. Mulligan’s return is immensely impressive, and even he can seldom have played better.

He ruffles his tone a little for Taylor’s tune “Capricious”, which suits the spritely up-and-down and in-and-out lines for which he had become famous long before. He also delivers a classic example of the sort of solo-building, one chorus carrying things further than the one before, which a number of junior performers currently don’t seem to try for hard enough. Taylor’s fondness for his tune makes his caressing of its gentle mid-tempo the more sensitive, and gives the CD a happy end, allowing the reviewer further opportunity to admire Carl Allen.

RATING 7 / 10
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