Red Garland ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Best known for his work as sideman in the mid-late 1950’s Miles Davis quintet, Dallas born pianist Red Garland has never received his full due as an interpreter of no little talent and this four album 2 CD provides an excellent overview of his early sides, by far the best he ever cut, for the Prestige label. By the mid-1950’s Garland was already a fully matured pianist and one who had been influenced by the likes of Art Tatum (his main inspiration), Nat King Cole (whose piano skills are sometimes neglected) and Bud Powell. The first CD focuses on the debut as a leader, ‘A Garland of Red’, that celebrates the great American songbook in all its variety. A virtually identical rhythm section operates throughout comprising Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums. It is the Gershwin brothers who are showcased on, ‘A foggy day’, while Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘Little girl blue’, receives a subtle treatment. A real favourite of another jazz pianist, namely Bill Evans, is the focus of attention on, ‘My romance’. The rest of the first CD is taken up with the one exception to the albums as a whole, a quintet recording and one that features no less than John Coltrane on tenor. The lengthy title track, ‘All morning long’, took up all of one side on the original vinyl and typifies the sound that Prestige owner Bob Weinstock revered, long, loose numbers that have something of an informal jam session feel.

Continuing in a similar vein, the second CD features the trio format once more and is dedicated to what were Red Garland’s primary three strengths: ballads, standards and blues. This regular routine consequently allowed the musicians to stretch out and relax. As ever with Avid re-issues, the bargain price is matched by the unparalleled time value (nearly eighty minutes per CD) and the facsimile original back album cover notes. An ideal place to start and discover one of the underrated virtuoso’s of the jazz piano.

Tim Stenhouse