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LARRY YOUNG - In Paris: The ORTF Recordings

RESONANCE/INA HCD-2022 (Available as Deluxe 2-CD and Limited Edition 2-LP Sets; digital download also available)

 

 

 

Nathan DAVIS (tenor sax); Woody SHAW (trumpet);Larry YOUNG (Hammond organ); Billy BROOKS (drums). Assorted others, as indicated.

rec. live: before December, 1964, up to February, 1965 (some specific dates unknown), Paris. [2 CDs: 120:45]

Release Date: 3/11/16

Tracks listed at end.

The music in this post-bop jazz album was last heard on two French radio broadcasts in 1965. It was recorded in late 1964 and early ‘65 by the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF), which stored the tapes at the Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA) and forgot about them. In 2012, someone inquired about their holdings, and it turned out that the INA had music by some of the greatest American jazz players who came through or had settled in Paris during the 1960s. This music, which fills two CDs (or LPs), was among their discoveries.

As a headbanger for this period, my interest was frankly less in Larry Young, the gifted organist and focus of this release, than in trumpeter Woody Shaw. While still in high school, Shaw dared to approach professorial über-reedman Eric Dolphy and asked to “sit with him.” Dolphy, who had had a stellar if controversial run playing jazz in strange new ways with sax giant John Coltrane, was amused by the boy's cheek. Still, he had him play, only to realize that he knew Dolphy's music inside out, and played it supremely well. So the 18-year-old Shaw was invited to record with him, on both Iron Man and Conversations.

When asked to form a house band for the Parisian club Le Chat Que Pêche, Dolphy asked for Shaw. In June 1964, however, Dolphy unexpectedly passed away in Berlin, likely due to medical treatment after his diabetes was misdiagnosed as a drug overdose.

With Dolphy gone, Paris-based tenor sax player Nathan Davis was asked to form the group. He kept the 20-year-old Shaw in the lineup, and Shaw urged on him his Newark high school pals and music-mates, Young and drummer Billy Brooks. They were flown over, and the Nathan Davis Quartet began a stint at the club that lasted several months. There were brief tours to Berlin and London, but at the club the Quartet routinely rehearsed three hours a day before their six-hour-long gigs, seven nights a week.

That musical hothouse is the backdrop of this double album. Shaw is on seven tracks, whereas Young plays on all ten: in trio formats, in the Quartet, and as part of the Jazz aux Champs-Élysées All-Stars. That band included the Quartet's frontmen plus a mostly French crew: Jack Diéval (piano), Jean-Claude Fohrenbach (tenor sax), Jacques Hess (bass), Franco Manzecchi (drums), Sonny Grey (trumpet), and Jacky Bamboo (percussion).

The first disc's five tracks add up to a tight set by musicians whose solo and group improvisations attest to their deeply-rehearsed collaboration. On the intriguingly-shaped Trane of Thought, Shaw's trumpet, which never plays without brio, launches with a torrent of lavish wailing, setting the scene. Young plays both the organ and piano (as he does elsewhere), mostly comping except for a late solo. Davis has a fine run, notable for its response to Shaw’s sonic fire in this set's 7-minute opener. Young's Talkin' about JC—already a second reference to the giant who was Coltrane—is a swinging number with a calypso beat also driven to life by both Davis's and especially Shaw's soloing. The All Stars' little-known (to me) drummer Franco Manzecchi provides effective contour and propulsion to the organ’s even sound.

The standard Mean To Me features Young in a trio with Manzecchi on drums again and Jacky Bamboo on conga. In this near-solo setting, Young's organ steers clear of 1960s and '70s funk, and with such grace and felicity as to lull even those lukewarm about the Hammond.

These musicians’ improvisations are almost always of a very high calibre. The exception highlighting this rule is La Valse Grise, where Shaw strays past dissonance, to this ear, and never quite recovers. Davis steps in ably, and in a second solo only Shaw's strong technique covers over the lapse in his usual mojo. In Discotheque, a loping blues that completes the first disc, Young displays his piano talents, again alongside some groovy but never hackneyed organ licks.

While the first disc will surely impress even demanding fans, the second delivers a sharp shift from head-turning to musically jaw-dropping.

Two trios bookend it. In Luny Tune (a misspelled reference to the Bugs Bunny cartoon?), Young is again in a trio with Manzecchi and Bamboo in a catchy song that is a joyful marvel. Young’s variations dig deep into the tradition without ever taking refuge in a single cliché. An easy-going but impressive showcase of Young's improvisations, these are well complemented with some biting, precisely-articulated percussion.

The closing number, Larry’s Blues, is a very different thing. With Manzecchi on drums and bassist Jacques Hess, Young is on piano alone, and his playing is truly arresting—confident, inventive, and ear-stretching. McCoy Tyner and Jackie Byard come to mind, and perhaps Monk too, in the pauses and musical hiccups. It is fresh and sparkling throughout, even if at the close Young challenges listeners as nowhere else on this album, reaching for abstraction that may leave some listeners (such as yours truly) intrigued, or even downright bewildered.

For all that, the three numbers between these trios earn the price of the album—and then some! They feature the Quartet alone, and are the players all in outstanding form, cooking up some of the most vibrant hard bop this side of Art Blakey's most riveting groups.

Zoltan and Beyond All Limits are Shaw compositions that would appear on one of Young’s hit LPs, Unity (his other ground-breaker being Into Somethin' [Blue Note]).The remaining song is also the album's second longest: a hard-hitting,14-minute excursion through Wayne Shorter's Black Nile, where Shaw goes far out into the proverbial zone.

In Beyond All Limits, Young lays down a steady foundation for the brasses to launch their questing themes, after which Davis takes a long sax solo. Shaw's trumpet, which most often takes dissonance to a song's very outskirts, comes in from there, twisting out his usual wealth of musical ideas in elaborate, serpentine structures. Young also has a solo turn, and despite his instrument's flatter edge, extemporizes with his usual felicity. The strength of this music, and the reason you need to hear it, is in these ad-libbing strengths, as if not a note is calculated, perhaps leaving you, too, wondering how such ebullience can emerge from the group's apparent casualness. The Quartet eventually returns to earth, easing back to restating the themes at the point of musical departure.

Black Nile is launched with a more vigorous tempo, starting off in ensemble followed by rounds of soloing. Young again provides a harmonic base for extemporization, yet now and then ventures in with his own flash and fire. This is all tried and true in the small-combo tradition, yet what makes these numbers is the players' improvisational genius, their group instincts—including how Brooks knows just when to break in and stoke up the coals with fresh euphoria.

At 20:31, Zoltan, the album's longest track, is in some ways its most compelling. Along with the other frontmen, Davis is especially inspired, laying out some quirky yet cohesive musical ideas for this mid-tempo song, suggesting a stronger ranking among the era's tenorists than his representation on CDs suggests. Billy Brooks also bears special mention for stepping in late with a dynamic second wind for the number, leading his bandmates through a long and loose round of thematic echoes, in classic call-and-response form that drives the song to a satisfying end.

For my money, these 40+ minutes—longer than most mid-60s LPs—make this album a find about as noteworthy as Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note/EMI)—a November, 1957, recording found and released only in 2005, and called “the musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest.”

Most of this album's tunes launch tamely and gradually work up their lather. Young comps and solos with the harmonic skill and felicity that became his legacy. Shaw stretches his horn’s register to create some of the ferocious drama that trumpeters still strive to achieve. Davis always plays persuasively, and often impressively. And Brooks, who stayed in Europe after his pals returned to the U.S., adds a special crispness and authority with his drumming, acting often as the perfect supplement to the electronic organ’s array of growls, wails, moans, undulating tremolos and shrill ostinato. All told, this is live, driving jazz that reaches post-bop stratospheres.

The sound of the recording is sharp and clear, betraying no seams through both discs—despite the varied groupings, or that some tunes ( Zoltan and Black Nile) hark from an awards show while others come from a studio. These latter include La Valse Grise and Discothèque, which were cut without special rehearsals or arrangements, and Young's Talkin' about JC. This last was apparently no composition at all, just unrehearsed improvisations around a bluesy theme.

The album's outsize packaging is about an inch too large for your CD shelves, although its gem of a 68-page booklet has photos galore and plenty to give us context. This includes articles by Resonance’s Zev Feldman, who'd asked about the INA's vaults, guitarist John McLaughlin, jazz scholars and executives, Larry Young III and Woody Shaw III. There are also reminiscences by Jack Bruce and interviews with Davis (by executive producer Michael Cuscuna), organists Lonnie Smith and John Medeski, and others. No effort was spared to give this music its full due.

As if that were not enough, classical enthusiasts may be intrigued to learn that Young had studied Zoltán Kodály’s gypsy folk music, while Shaw and Davis both dug deep into Béla Bartók’s gypsy-inflected works. Their Hungarian masters’ common sensibilities and similar harmonic approaches make it no wonder that their symbiosis in jazz turned out so right. Olga von Till, Young’s first, very influential teacher, was Hungarian and a student of Bartók himself—one of the 20th century's four or five towering composers. Through her studies in Budapest she also knew Erno Dohnányi and Kodály, a notable composer and Bartok's equal as an ethnomusicologist. (Bill Evans, incidentally, was another von Till pupil.)

Besides Dolphy, by the time of these recordings Shaw had also played with tenor sax masters Dexter Gordon and Jackie McLean, and organist Bobby Hutcherson. In November 1965, after their stint at Le Chat, he and Young returned to the U.S., and with Joe Henderson on tenor and drummer Elvin Jones they cut Unity (Blue Note). It was Young’s most successful album, and a summit certainly for the Hammond, and for the decade's small-combo, hard bop jazz.

With all the promise of a young Clifford Brown or Lee Morgan, Shaw went on to a remarkable career as leader, and in recordings under Andrew Hill, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock and Max Roach. Tragically, in ways too gruesome to outline here, Shaw came to an early end at age 44.

The present double album is the first new release of music by Larry Young in 38 years. To this ear, its material often approaches the stature of Unity. More than that, some numbers surpass it, especially given Woody Shaw, who is in very top form.

Strongly recommended.

Bert Bailey

Track Listing

Disc One:

Trane of Thought (6:46)

Talkin About JC (14:53)

Mean To Me (4:12)

La Valse Grise (16:09)

Discothèque (10:43)

Disc Two:

Luny Tune (4:36)

Beyond All Limits (7:36)

Black Nile (13:59)

Zoltan (20:31)

Larry's Blues (6:13)

 

 


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