Booker Little ‘Quartet/Quintet/Sextet. Complete recordings. Master takes’ 2CD (American Jazz Classics) 5/5

Booker LittleTrumpeter Booker Little belongs to that small elite of jazz musicians who died young while still in their prime (in Little’s case, the age of twenty-three), Clifford Brown and Farts Navarro, being notable others, and this two CD set does a wonderful job of bringing together the various sessions that were recorded between 1958 and 1961. Little in fact managed to cram an awful lot of top quality recordings into his precocious, yet brief life, and readers should also search out his sideman duties on seminal albums with John Coltrane (‘Africa Brass Sessions’), Eric Dolphy (‘Far Out’/’Live at the Five Spot’) and Max Roach (‘Percussion Bitter Sweet’/’We Insist! Freedom Now’) as well as with vocalist of the calibre of Bill Henderson and Abbey Lincoln. Possibly the best known of the albums featured on this anthology is ‘The Legendary Quartet’ album with Wynton Kelly and Tommy Flanagan alternating on piano, Scott La Faro on bass (another tragic victim who would die young) and Roy Haynes on drums and there is some sumptuous playing on this session. What a pity this quartet would not perform on record again. An earlier session from 1958 came about largely thanks to the help and support of Sonny Rollins and featured Max Roach on drums, Art Davis on bass and Tommy Flanagan on piano with George Coleman sharing horn duties on tenor saxophone.

Included here is the excellent 1961 session on Nat Hentoff’s Candid label ‘Out Front’ which for many is regarded by many (this writer included) as Little’s finest achievement as a leader and with a dynamite line up of Roach, Art Davis and Ron carter sharing bas duties, Eric Dolphy and trombonist Julian Priester, this is a fine example of how Little was already progressing to post-bop territory as well as highlighting what a fine composer he was. Of the slower material ‘Strength and Sanity’ is an excellent composition while in a more uptempo vein, both ‘Hazy Hues’ and ‘A New day’ fits the bill admirably. From roughly the same period, ‘Booker Little and Friends’ repeats the formula with Priester remaining and drummer Pete La Roca, bassist Reggie Workman and tenorist George Coleman ably assisting.

A beautifully illustrated booklet features the original album covers in their full splendour, original liner notes and a general and informative biography which makes for rewarding reading. Terrific value fro money at just over seventy-five minutes per CD. If anyone wishes to discover what post-bop hues sounded like on the trumpet in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this would be as good a place to start as any alongside the revolutionary musical works of Miles Davis.

Tim Stenhouse