MUNDELL LOWE with BILLY TAYLOR, GENE QUIL
A Grand Night for Swinging:
Mundell Lowe (g) Gene Quill (as) on Side 1, #2; Side 2, #2 and 3) Billy Taylor (p) Les Grinage (b) Ed Thigpen (drs)
New York; March 7 and April 10, 1957
1. It's a Grant Night for Swingin' (4:17) (Billy Taylor)
2. Blues Before Freud (7:15) (Mundell Lowe)
3. Easy to Love (7:15) (Cole Porter)
1. It Could Happen to You (2:49) (Burke – Van Heusen)
2. Love Me or Leave Me (3:30) (Kahn – Donaldson)
3. You Turned the Tables on Me (5:36) (Mitchell – Alter)
4. Crazy Rhythm (6:48) (Caesar – Meyer – Kahn)
MUNDELL LOWE, as anyone familiar with his previous work on records knows, is a guitarist of impressive skill and a jazz artist of considerable taste and sensitivity. "Restraint" is a descriptive word that might readily come to mind. But if it does come to mind, then as this particular album is concerned forget it!
You'll still find Lowe a tasteful and sensitive master of his instrument; it would hardly be possible for him to be otherwise. But on this occasion his intentions are specifically different than on his earlier Riverside LPs. The starting premise here was Mundell's feeling that he had slipped into a pattern of over emphasizing one side of his jazz nature: of stressing the 'softer' side and neglecting the 'harder'. So he set out to remedy the situation: to build an album that would be a hard driving swinger all the way.
As a first step, there was the selection of the right men to work with. Not just capable musicians, but players that Lowe knew he could fit with immediately with whom he could slip, without delay or tension, into the proper and vitally necessary framework of relaxed blowing. The key selection was a long standing friend of Mundell's, BILLY TAYLOR has, in the past few years, risen to a top position as one of the most highly regarded and most widely popular jazz pianists. But on quick first thought he might seem a strange choice for this album. Billy has worked for several years now as leader of a trio that has played very successful in some of the country's 'smartest' jazz clubs, and there are some who tend to label him as an overly "polite" musician which is much the same tag as has sometimes been hung on Lowe. But Mundell is one of those who knows better than that (about himself and about Taylor), and he realized that Billy would be not only able but extremely willing to take advantage of this sort of opportunity. And the superior brand of funky piano to be heard here (note, in particular, Easy to Love and Blues Before Freud) should prove that Taylor, like Lowe, is a jazzman whose talent has under-exposed and under-appreciated facets.
Mundell has most often worked with only a rhythm sections behind him, a set up that of course leaves him with the full burden of playing lead, as well as the principal solo role. For this LP, however he felt it important, for maximum contrast and impact, that there should be other strong solo voices and also that the guitar should not be the only "horn". The presence of Taylor took a big bite out of the first half of this problem, and step Number Two consisted of finding a horn man who would feel right for the setting Lowe had in mind. When he happened to jam, one night, with a group that included GENE QUILL, that particular search was over. Quill is a young altoist on the way up, with a firm, soaring tone and the ability to ride hard and swing lyrically; his performance on the first of the two recording sessions that produced this LP adds greatly to the overall effect.
To complete the rhythm section, there are two other impressive young musicians. ED THIGPEN is possibly a born drummer: his father, Ben, sparked Andy Kirk's band, one of the best to come out of Kansas City in the 1930s. Ed joined the Billy Taylor Trio in 1956, and it was while sitting in with that group that Lowe learned to appreciate his tasteful, driving style. Bassist LES GRINAGE has played with (among others) Tony Scott's quartet, which is where he first came to Lowe's attention.
Having carefully put together his unit, Mundell now turned deceptively casual. A number of possible tunes were picked out; in the recording studio they were tossed at the group. Four that provoked the best reactions were the ones that were routined, given a run-through at an agreed upon tempo (anywhere from swinging medium to up driving) and perhaps a quick head arrangement, and were then recorded without strain and with a minimum of 'takes needed. The exceptions to this rule of procedure were: It Could Happen To You, reserved by Lowe as a primarily solo piece; the Billy Taylor original that leads off the LP, which is one that Taylor has recorded before and that Billy, Ed and Mundell had worked out on; and Blues Before Freud, the result of Mundell's saying "new let's just blow some blues." (it picked up its title because it struck someone in the control room as sounding "naturally uninhibited.")
This lack of heavy planning was of course itself part of a deliberate plan designed to produce an album that would be ... not tightly arranged, nor restrained, nor experimental ... not anything except a happy, free flowing chunk of good listening. It was only afterwards that it was noted that the repertoire provided a built in album title that this was recorded on two separate occasions, it certainly was A Grand Night for Swinging.
Mundell Lowe stands high on the list of top ranking modern jazz guitarists. Although, like just about every current performer on the instrument, he admits a considerable debt to that pioneer modernist, Charlie Christian, Lowe is the possessor of a distinctive, highly personal and quickly recognizable style. Born in Mississippi in 1922, Mundell has been a well travelled professional musician since the age of twelve, his pre war experience carrying him as far as Hollywood and ranging from hillbilly to dance bands to jazz. A post war stint of a year and a half with Ray McKinley built the foundation of his jazz reputation. In recent years he has (like many other top-jazzmen) traded the road for the steady employment offered by TV and radio work. But continued study, frequent recording and occasional club dates have kept his jazz ideas fresh and his skill on the increase.
He is featured on three other Riverside LPs –
MUNDELL LOWE Quartet (RLP12-204)
Guitar Moods by MUNDELL LOWE (RLP12-208)
New Music of ALEC WILDER; composed for MUNDELL LOWE and his Orchestra (RLP12-219)
Lowe and Taylor can each be heard on four selections in an album of mood music –
This Could Lead to Love (RLP12-808)
Lowe appears as part of an all-star rhythm section (with Dick Hyman, Eddie Safranski, Don Lamond) on –
Counterpoint for Six Valves: DON ELLIOTT and RUSTY DEDRICK play Dick Hyman arrangements (RLP12-218)
Other outstanding modern jazz on HIGH FIDELITY 12-inch Riverside LPs includes –
HERBIE MANN: Sultry Serenade (RLP12-234)
SONNY ROLLINS: The Sound of Sonny (RLP 12-241)
KENNY DORHAM: Jazz Contrasts; with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach (RLP12-239)
Thelonious Himself: solo piano by THELONIOUS MONK (RLP12-235)
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK; with Sonny Rollins (RLP12-226)
Trigger Happy: TRIGGER ALPERT All Stars; with Tony Scott, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Urbie Green, Joe Wilder
Zoot!: The ZOOT SIMS Quintet (RLP 12-228)
The Hawk Flies High: COLEMAN HAWKINS; with J. J. Johnson (RLP12-233)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording Riverside Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by Orrin Keepnews.
Cover by Paul Weller (photography) and Paul Bacon (design)
Engineer: Jack Higgins (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.