MILT JACKSON: INVITATION
Kenny Dorham (tp) Jimmy Heath (ts) Milt Jackson (vib) Tommy Flanagan (p) Ron Carter (b) Connie Kay (drs)
Virgil Jones (tp) replaces Heath on To Close to Comfort and Poom-a-Loom. Dorham does not play on Stella by Starlight.
Invitation (3:53) (Bronislau Kaper)
Too Close for Comfort (5:14) (Weiss – Bock –Holofcener)
Ruby, My Dear (4:23) (Thelonious Monk)
The Sealer (6:29) (Milt Jackson)
Poom-a-Loom (6:52) (Milt Jackson)
Stella by Starlight (3:56) (Young – Washington)
Ruby (5:49) (Roemheld – Parish)
None Shall Wander (3:52) (Kenny Dorham)
“Bags,” as most of you must know, is a nickname that has long been a synonym for Milt Jackson. Quite apart from this, the word “Bag” has recently become popular in jazz vernacular as part of the expressions used to describe a musician’s playing attitude (He’s working out of his Coltrane bag”), or for that matter anyone’s particular actions (He’s into his Frankenstein bag, “ etc.). So it does seem appropriate to note that – while remaining at all times himself – on his three Riverside albums to date, Bags has been in three different bags.
When an artist is as versatile as Jackson, a variety of settings only serves to illuminate his many attributes more brightly. First there was the informal blowing format of a quintet in “Bags Meets Wes” (“Wes being guitarist Wes Montgomery, of course). This was followed by “Big Bags”, in which Jackson’s vibes were beautifully set off by a large orchestra playing arrangements by Tadd Dameron and Erie Wilkins. Now we have “Invitation,” placing Milt in a small-group setting that features arrangements (sketches might be a more accurate term( that serve the purpose of giving body to the overall performances without ever inhibiting that free-wheeling of the soloists.
Much has been written in praise of Milt Jackson, but with a musician of his great stature more approbation ca never be superfluous. Each time out, Bags gives the listener something solid to hold. Perhaps it is because he puts so much of himself into his playing. The vibes is an action instrument. This does not necessarily refer to someone busily playing many notes with arms flailing – certainly that is not Jackson’s style – but the approach to the vibes is much more physical than to a horn. The visual manifestation of Bag’s inner involvement are usually apparent, and even on a record, where of course you can’t see them, you still can’t help feeling the motivating force.
When Jackson was first herd with Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet in the 1940s, many people complained about his sound. It was compared to empty milk bottles being struck. The fault lay with an inferior set of vibes and as soon as Milt was able to get a better one, his sound improved. That was many years ago, and I drag it up now only in the light of the marvelous victimized by the recording engineer more often than any other instrumentalist. But here the reproduction is really superior and helps bring into sharp focus Milt’s most formidable attributes: muscular, uplifting swing and unsentimental, romantic warmth.
In Kenny Dorham and Jimmy Heath, Bags has two formidable front-line mates. Besides providing additional solo power both have a hand in the scoring: Kenny on his own None Shall Wander, Jackson’s The dealer, and Invitation; Jimmy on the two songs concerned with Ruby, (Heath’s tenor is replaced, on Too Close for Comort and Poom-a-Loom, by the trumpet of Virgil Jones, a Lionel Hampton sideman who shows and affinity for Miles Davis on the latter tune, where the second trumpet chorus is his only solo of the set.)
Tommy Flanagan is a familiar figure in New York recording studios and for good reason. He and expert drummer Connie Kay were members of the fine quartet Jackson led at the Village Vanguard in 1962 when Connie and Milt had time off from their regular Modern Jazz Quartet assignments. Completing the excellent rhythm section is Ron Carter, one of the real, new stars on bass.
The varied, captivating material is representative of several sources from which modern jazzmen draw. Three standards – Stella by Starlight, Ruby and Invitation – are all by way of Hollywood. The last-named is by Bronislau Kaper, who is perhaps the “hippiest” of the motion picture composers, judging by the way his Green Dolphin Street has been adopted by the jazz fraternity. Just before the rash of jazz-from-Broadway-show albums in the late ‘50s, Too Close for Comfort (from the Sammy Davos Vehicle, “Mr. Wonderful”) was used by a few jazzmen and has since worked its waay into the standard jazz repertoire, thereby outlasting most of the tunes from that “Broadway-jazz” period.
In the jazz-original department there are Thelonious Monk’s lovely Ruby, My Dear, played far to little since Monk introduced it in the ‘40s; and a trio of numbers composed for this occasion: Kenny Dorham’s touching None Shall Wander, and the two by leader Jackson himself. The Sealer, which puts the red wax on the first side, is a blithe swinger with an underlying air of optimism; Poom-a-Loom is a minor-key blues that derives its title from the rhythmic contour of its melody figure.
Good material is very important in this day o many albums. But as has always been the case, the real proof is in the performance. Merely to enumerate the various solos and attach to them the proper adjectives of praise could not fully communicate to you the rare combination of relaxation and discipline implicit in this album. (There is a notable absence of strain in the playing here that greatly enhances its artistry.)
The ultimate proof, then, must be in the listening. And this is never more obvious than when Milt Jackson is playing. His name, and what it continues to represent, should be invitation enough for anyone. If there were an R.S.V.P. included, it could only stand for Remarkably Superb Vibes Player.”
Jackson’s other riverside LPs include –
Big Bags: Milt Jackson Orchestra (429; Stereo 9429)
Bags Meets Wes: Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery (407; Stereo 9407)
He is also featured on –
Things Are Getting Better: Cannonball Adderley, with Milt Jackson (286; Stereo 1128)
Produced by Orrin Keepnews
Recording Engineer: Ray Fowler
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: Ken Deardoff
Back-liner photos by Steve Schapiro
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GARUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York