Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul Desmond's Legendary Dry Martini Sound

Its ironic that one of the two recordings Dave Brubeck is most known for, “Take Five,” was not by Brubeck, but from his alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. As part of the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of CTI, Sony has issued a remastered edition of Pure Desmond, a quartet date with guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Connie Kay. Sony has had this remastered, although unlike the Japanese remasters of CTI material, Sony did not employ have Creed Taylor and Rudy Van Gelder at whose legendary studio this was recorded, to remaster these. It likely is that the Japanese remastering is superior to that on Sony, as Marc Myers blogged on his back at the end of September, but i would assume most would not be willing to pay three times what one might pay for the Sony reissues. And this particular reissue still sounds wonderful to my aging ears.

I love Gene Lee’s description in the liner booklet of Desmond’s alto sound as tart and lyrical and Desmond himself says he wanted to sound as a dry martini. The Canadian guitarist Bickert was a recommendation of Jim Hall to Desmond and his own playing has a lyricism of its own along with the precise eloquence of his picking and solos. Carter and Kay provide marvelous backing as during Bickert’s solo on Django Reinhardt’s Nuages, where its almost a duet between Bickert and Carter with kay light on the cymbals, before Desmond comes back in with his playing that may be the true paradigm of the ‘cool sound.” The overall feel is of a delightful preciousness of this quartet whether on Reinhardt’s wistful classic or the playfulness of Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me, that opens this recording.

The program includes a couple of lesser known gems from Cole Porter (Why Shouldn’t I), and Ellington (Warm Valley), along with Mean to Me, from the pen of Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert and associated with Billie Holiday, the Theme From M*A*S*H, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave. There is a lovely rendition of “Warm Valley” which was a feature of Johnny Hodges with Ellington I believe. On this edition are three alternate takes, but I do not know if they have been previously reissued. In any event, there is nearly an hour of some of the loveliest jazz one is likely to hear and the marvelous recording and sound here adds to the listening enjoyment.

This is a review of a purchased CD.

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