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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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At the Opera House

Essential Jazz Albums EJA 037




1. Billie's Bounce
2. My Funny Valentine
3. Crazy Rhythm
4. It Never Entered My Mind
5. Blues in the Closet
6. Billie's Bounce
7. My Funny Valentine
8. Crazy Rhythm
9. Yesterdays
10. It Never Entered My Mind
11. Blues in the Closet

Stan Getz - Tenor sax
J. J. Johnson - Trombone
Oscar Peterson - Piano
Herb Ellis - Guitar
Ray Brown - Bass
Connie Kay - Drums

Five of the tunes on this CD appear twice. This is explained by the fact that the first five tracks come from a concert at the Opera House in Chicago in September 1957, and the remaining half-dozen were recorded a week later by the same group at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Both concerts were organised as part of Norman Granz's "Jazz at the Philharmonic" series - yet another reason for jazz enthusiasts to be grateful to Mr Granz, whose promotion of jazz was second to none.
Much of the success of this album is down to the unfailingly swinging rhythm supplied by the Oscar Peterson Trio with the addition of Connie Kay on drums. Connie's playing for so many years with the Modern Jazz Quartet may have given people the impression that he was a fairly introverted player, but at these two concerts he joins in the uninhibited swing.
Of course, the main focus is on the two frontmen: Stan Getz, one of the most fluent of all tenorists, and J. J. Johnson, the man who helped to develop the trombone in a style suited to the bebop age. Confidence is assured right from the opening Billie's Bounce, with Getz soloing with seemingly inexhaustible invention. His playing has a seamless flow because as he creates a phrase, it suggests a new line of development for him to explore. Johnson's solo is equally adept - never straining for effect but simply blowing in what feels like a totally relaxed manner. Note Connie Kay's vigorous accents behind J.J.'s solo - rather different from much of Connie's more restrained work for the MJQ. After their solos, Getz and Johnson interweave in unforced counterpoint.
Similar interplay occurs between the two, unaccompanied, at the start of My Funny Valentine. Relaxed ease is the hallmark of this track. J. J. Johnson's solo avoids the plethora of notes which sometimes cluttered his playing. After Getz's smooth solo, the two respond to one another's phrases with commendable empathy before taking the tune out in an unaccompanied coda.
Crazy Rhythm is taken at a fast but not crazy tempo, with Connie Kay adding to the unstoppable swing. We are also reminded what a fine accompanist Oscar Peterson was on all his sessions for Norman Granz. Regrettably he doesn't get to play any solos on this album but he is nonetheless an indispensable element in the ensemble, even though his piano is not well favoured by the recording.
It Never Entered My Mind is a feature for Stan Getz, who proves that he could not only swing infectiously but also deliver a ballad with sensitivity and lyricism. His swinging ability is displayed in Oscar Pettiford's Blues in the Closet, which ends both concerts. Ray Brown's bass and Connie Kay's drums add to the punch of this and other up-tempo tracks.

The repetition of almost the same programme at the next concert might be regarded as undesirable duplication but in fact the performances differ in many ways and comparison between the different interpretations underlines the inventiveness of the players. And Oscar Peterson is rather higher in the mix, which is a blessing. Yesterdays provides a feature for J. J. Johnson, who demonstrates the expressiveness which (in a quotation among the sleeve-notes) he says he always tried to achieve despite any suggestion that he was only interested in speed and technique. The second version of Blues in the Closet is certainly speedier than the first but just as impressive.
With over 76 minutes of first-class music, this is a reissue to be thankful for.

Tony Augarde




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