Freddie Redd ‘Four Original Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

As with the plethora of jazz re-issues currently out there, a key question for potential purchasers is how does this compare with other counterpart releases by the same artist and the Avid series has prided itself on providing a fully comprehensive back up of historical information from original sleeve notes, clearly reproduced, to full discographical information.

Other labels may cram extra albums onto further CD’s, but at seventy-five minutes or more on average, Avid can never be accused of being anything less than extremely generous with their timing and the question has to be posed of is your listening enjoyment likely to be increased by having at your disposal all the information you require on the given musicians and the albums. For the pianist, Freddie Redd, there may be other outlets that offer a greater volume of his work, but these also have the major downside of not contextualising the musician’s craft with full discographical details or full line notes, or even in some cases, inadequate facsimile covers. This is where the Avid series comes into its own and this collector for one would prefer to have a comprehensive view of a select number of recordings, rather than have an incomplete vision of several.

One of the best known albums that Redd cut as a leader was for Blue Note and that is the memorable, ‘Shades of Redd’, which had a stunning brass pairing of Tina Brooks on tenor and Jackie McLean on alto. This is a classic Blue Note album and everything within requires repeated listening. Rounding off the superb listening experience are the outstanding line notes by jazz aficionado and also independent label owner, Nat Hentoff. Freddie Redd was in his absolute prime in 1960 and the second Blue Note recording showcased here, ‘The Connection’, is based on a film which featured altoist Jackie McLean who lived out the screenplay in real life with a long-term drug addiction. Redd composed the music and it remains to this day a gritty evocation of the side of a jazz musician’s existence in the heydays of the 1950’s and 1960’s. How many gifted musicians would fall foul of addiction and, sadly, that remains true to this very day with Gil Scott Heron, Whitney Houston and of course Amy Winehouse all becoming victims. A separate recording of the film soundtrack was recorded by Redd with Howard McGhee and Tina Brooks, but frankly pales in comparison with the Blue Note version which is the definitive one.

Prior to his contract with Blue Note, Freddie Redd cut a few albums with Riverside, and, while they are not on a par with the epic Blue Note sides, they nonetheless shed useful light on the pianist. A 1957 date, ‘San Francisco Suite’, is notable for the extended suite composed by the pianist and of the pieces, ‘Blue hour’, stood out for this writer and Redd would much later return to writing duties. The far lesser known and slightly earlier recording, ‘Get happy with’, is less satisfying, but worth acquiring as part of the package, and extremely hard to find in any format elsewhere.

Tim Stenhouse