Last year saw the emergence of the complete, ‘Concerts be the sea’, live recording, arguably the greatest ever piano jazz album (some might argue strongly for Bill Evans ‘Live at the Village Gate’ from 1961), and this was a treat for jazz devotees with an additional CDs worth of previously unheard material plus an interview. How do you follow that? Octave Music found a way by trawling the archives and locating three separate studio dates plus a further single date in Paris. All had in common an identical quartet format including the same percussionist José Mangual Jr. and virtually the same rhythm section throughout with minor changes in personnel, with Jimmie Smith on drums and Ernest McCarty Jr. mainly on the bass (George Duvivier and Ike Isaacs elsewhere). Thus, there was a cohesion to the music and the sound quality was comparable to anything that Garner recorded elsewhere for major labels in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The result is a revelation and its own right a truly outstanding re-issue, or rather to be exact a first issuing of material including six originals and the rest standards that are given that unique Garner phrasing with exquisite arrangements as only the maestro is capable of. Of the new pieces (to our ears at least), ‘Down Wylie Avenue’, is a stunning uptempo number that has the listener hooked from the outset and a strong latin jazz vamp as does, ‘High wire’, which comes across as though garner might have been listening carefully the then new sound of Eddie Palmieri, or maybe it was the other way round. Fans of cu-bop will immediately be taken by the reading of, ‘I want to be happy’, and of course Garner did record back in the mid-1950s a whole album in this vein entitled, ‘Mambo with Garner’ that has stood the test of time remarkably well.
Three and a bit separate sessions, then, but you would hardly notice because the same intensity is maintained and virtually the same line-up ensures a seamless transition from one number to the next. A rare gem of a recording and full marks to the teams at Octave and Sony for locating the music in the first instance and then re-mastering it. Among the co-production personnel, current pianist Geri Allen offers her own perspective on the garner genius and his legacy is most definitely enhanced by this superlative discovery.