Various ‘Jazz Bassists – Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

If the ongoing series has thrown up some terrific and long-lost albums by individual musicians that have now finally been made available on CD, then this homing in on a given instrument equally affords the listener the opportunity to hear some of the greatest jazz bassists surrounded by crème de la crème accompanists. Once again, this include both famous albums and some far more obscure ones that, in all probability, have never been reissued previously in any format.

For the latter, ‘Leroy Walks!’, by Leroy Vinegar is one of those stunning west coast albums from the 1950’s that nonetheless has transcended both time and sub-genre to be regarded as an all-time classic. Originally released on Contemporary in 1957, the sextet album is full of lyrical mid-paced numbers such as, ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’, and that relaxed feel is repeated on the piano and vibes plus bass on, ‘I’ll Walk Alone’ and, the collective reeds that operate so effectively on, ‘Walk on’. Leroy Vinegar was best known as a sideman, but this outstanding example of him as a leader should be in the possession of every modern jazz fan and simply has not dated. The inclusion of tenorist Teddy Edwards, at a much later date to be the favoured saxophonist of Tom Waits on his 1970s albums.

Dating from around the same period, ‘Soulnik’, by Doug Watkins is notable in that Watkins only recorded two sessions as a leader and was at the time a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1955/1956). This quintet album features a then young Yusef Lateef and that is a major attraction on numbers such as, ‘Confessin” and ‘André’s Bag’, which are in the hard bop idiom. Sadly, Doug Watkins would die in 1962 and the world of jazz was deprived of any further recordings by a major practitioner of the art.

An extremely hard to find original album on vinyl is by one of the greatest ever exponents of the bass in Paul Chambers. His 1960 Vee-Jay recording, ‘First Bassman’, is very much in that late 1950s hard bop vein with Yusef Lateef on tenor saxophone, Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wynton Kelly on piano and Lex Humphries on drums. Indeed, but for the recording sound, this could easily have been one of the classic Blue Note albums of the period. Chambers was in his prime here and still an integral member of the classic Miles Davis quintet that recorded, ‘Kind Of Blue’. The use of collective horns features prominently throughout and a stand out track is, ‘Melody’, with a fiery trumpet solo by Turrentine, another musician who is seldom heard in anything other than a sideman role.

Arguably, the most challenging of the four albums contained within, though now sounding very much a part of the progressive side of modern jazz history is ‘Where?’ by Ron Carter dating from 1961, where Carter alternates between bass and cello with a second bassist in George Duvivier. At this point in time, Ron Carter was still some three years off becoming a part of the new Miles Davis mid-1960s quintet, but had already performed with the likes of Jaki Byard and Chico Hamilton. This was in fact Carter’s debut album as a leader, and reflected his eclectic musical tastes that ranged from modern jazz through to western classical. A stellar cast included multi-reedist Eric Dolphy and pianist Mal Waldron, both of whom had previously recorded with John Coltrane and this well versed in music that was taking on board new orbits. Unquestionably the music here has a much freer and more improvised feel than on the other albums, with Dolphy sounding imperious on bass clarinet, flute and alto saxophone. Both Carter and Duvivier come together on the aptly titled, ‘Bass Duet’, while the title track has more of a classical feel, with Waldron stretching out. A real highlight is the interpretation of ‘Softly As In A Morning Sunrise’ with a cello motif of the main theme as the intro, and then leading into the alto saxophone of Dolphy who is in surprisingly relaxed mode on this mid-tempo reading. An uplifting take on, ‘Yes Indeed!’ rounds off a memorable album and one that to this day sounds quite unlike any other.

As with Avid pairings exceedingly good value timing, impeccable repackaging of covers, and all this quality at a budget price. An ideal way to widen your knowledge of jazz history without breaking the bank in the process.

Tim Stenhouse