GIGI GRYCE and the JAZZ LAB QUINTET
Donald Byrd (tp) Gigi Gryce (as) Wade Legge (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Art Taylor (drs)
New York; February 27 and March 7, 1957
1. Love for Sale (7:55) (Cole Porter/ arr. Donald Byrd)
2. Geraldine (5:31) (Wade Legge)
3. Minority (6:23) (Gigi Gryce)
1. Zing Went the Strings of My Heart (6:11) (J. Hanley/ arr. Donald Byrd)
2. Straight Ahead (9:31) (Lee Sears/ arr. Gigi Gryce)
3. Wake Up! (4:31) (Lee Sears/ arr. Donald Byrd)
This album marks the first joint appearance on records of a group that will – if there is any justice in the world – go on to make a considerable name for itself in modern jazz circles.
Of course, as we all know, there is no real assurance that there is any justice in today’s jazz world. More than a few impressively talented and ambitiously planned groups have quickly fallen part for a variety of reasons (often including just plain failure to get enough bookings). But if talent, fresh ideas, and a degree of level-headed determination that is astonishingly rare on the current jazz scene (or, for that matter, on any other scene) are a strong enough combination to make the grade, then Gigi Gryce and his associates have to make it.
There is, in a group like, this, solid reason for optimism about the future of jazz. For here are five musicians, all young but all well-seasoned by experience, proving by their own example that there is an almost limitless quantity of valid, moving, enjoyable music to be derived from the (more or less) standard materials of current jazz.
It is, admittedly, rather deceptive and unfair to refer to “standard materials.” For what is going on here is rally altogether out of the ordinary. On the one hand, these are not innovators and experimenters in any wild, far-out sense of those words. (They are actually a bit concerned that the name chosen for the group might give an inaccurate impression that they are trying to be a “laboratory” of arbitrary and artificial ‘new’ sounds for the sake of newness.’) If you are the sort who insists on labels for music, you can safely place these men in the post-bop school of jazz. But you have to go on from there. For what is taking place in this Jazz Lab really is experimentation – of a non-esoteric, but nonetheless extremely unusual and valuable kind. It is, you can say, an attempt tot push the boundaries of the kind of jazz these men love best as far forward as possible, but without making any drastic alterations of its shape or form.
Jazz forms, no matter how radical they may have been when first introduced, inevitably tend to grow stale and cliché-ridden if they continue to be approached in the same way and from the same direction year after year. The most obvious solution to this problem is to throw the old form away, or to keep the merest shell of it, and strike out in all sorts of new directions. This is what quite a few jazz artists have been doing in the past few years, with widely varying degrees of success. But the approach that Gigi Gryce has been taking, in his writing and playing, and now in his work as the guiding hand of this quintet, is both simpler and less obvious, perhaps more difficult and surely every bit as valid. As demonstrated on this LP, it involves enriching and re-invigorating the basic bop formula, rather than abandoning it – adding fresh rhythmic and melodic ideas, and effectively combining full-bodied arrangements with the freshness and enthusiasm of gifted young musicians who are themselves not the lightest bit stale or cliched.
The two horns here, Gryce and the exceptionally rich-toned young trumpeter Donald Byrd, possess extremely lyrical and melodic talents; they, and the rhythm section they are working with, have a great deal of fire and swing. And they all have the imagination and musical courage to take material that doesn’t necessarily seem particularly jazz-oriented (like the two standards in this album, Love For Sale and Zing Went the Strings of My Heart) and transform them into quite exciting jazz adventures. Take for example Love for Sale, as arranged by Byrd (with some assistance from Gryce and Ed Thigpen). Not only is it put into 6/8 time, but careful listening reveals that each of the five instruments is developing a separate melodic line. (Credit some particularly deft and sensitive engineering by Jack Higgins in helping to bring this off successfully.)
Another extremely non-“standard” feature here is that the Jazz Lab Quintet is a band, not just a haphazard collection of individuals. Group skill, the ability to mesh together, is by no means synonymous with individual talent, as ever so many “all star” recordings should have proven by now. This is a carefully chosen unit: Gryce, Byrd, and drummer Art Taylor, who are its nucleus, have a particularly strong rapport. And it is Grayce’s almost unique idea that talent, although it counts for a lot, is not all. He believes in such strange details as being familiar with an arrangement before you start recording it, and above all he believes it important that a group be entirely made up of men mature enough to “mean business,” who work well together, who think along similar lines and respect each other’s contributions. (Gigi is the leader, but in such matters as working out the concrete application of an idea or an arrangement, the band is a co-operative.) If such an approach succeeds, it could really revolutionize the music business.
Some notes on the personnel: Gigi Gryce, born in Florida (in 1927) and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, has studied composition at the Boston Conservatory and, as a Fulbright Scholar, in Paris. A close friend of Charlie Parker’s during his last years, Gigi is nevertheless one of the few current alto players to speak with his own voice more than with Bird’s . . . Donald Byrd, part of the recent wave of highly promising young jazz talent to come East from Detroit, is a trumpeter of great warmth and impressive technical skill, and widely regarded as the coming star on his instrument. . . Art Taylor, a hard swinger in the Blakey-Roach vein, but with a still-developing subtlety of his own, is currently among the most in-demand drummers for record dates in New York. . . Wendell Marshall, who was with Duke Ellington for seven years, has also provided a firm beat on innumerable recordings. . . Wade Legge, an impressive young pianist who spent two years with Dizzy Gillespie, also indicates his writing abilities here with the ballad Geraldine.
Other outstanding contemporary jazz on 12-inch HIGH FIDELITY Riverside LPs includes –
THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington (RLP12-201)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK (RLP12-209)
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK; with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Clark Terry (RLP12-226) (5-star rating: Down Beat)
Zoot!: The ZOOT SIMS Quintet; with Nick Travis, George Handy (RLP12-228)
Trigger Happy: RIGGER ALPERT All-Stars – Tony Scott, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Urbie Green, Joe Wilder, Ed Shaughnessy (RLP12-225)
New Music of ALEC WILDER; composed for Mundell Lowe and his Orchestra (RLP12-219)
Counterpoint for Six Valves: SON ELLIOTT and RUSTY DEDRICK playing arrangements by Dick Hyman (RLP12-218)
BOBCORWIN Quartet, featuring the trumpet of DON ELLIOTT (RLP12-220)
Presenting ERNIE HENRY; with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Drew (RLP12-222)
KENNY DREW Trio; with Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones (RLP12-224)
BILL EVANS; New Piano Jazz Conceptions (RLP12-223) (4 1/2-star rating: Down Beat)
With These Hands: RANDY WESTON Trio plus Cecil Payne (RLP12-214)
RANDY WESTON: Trio and Solo (RLP12-227)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves Spectrosonic High Fidelity Engineering (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced, and notes written by, Orrin Keepnews.
Cover photograph: Paul Weller; design: Paul Bacon.
Engineer: Jack Higgins (Reeves Sound Studios).
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.