Those who think that only Woody Guthrie wanna-bes crowded the stages of New York's Greenwich Village in the early 1960s should give a listen to Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band, Live at the Village Vanguard. If nothing else, this newly minted reissue of an almost-forgotten 1961 release will demonstrate that there was a hell of a lot more going on in the Big Apple music scene at the time.
More important, the disc serves as a reminder of what a powerful force reedman Mulligan, who tends to get the short shrift outside of hard-core jazz circles, truly was. No one in the 1950s and '60s save perhaps for Sun Ra disciple Pat Patrick could make the cumbersome baritone saxophone swing with such grace.
Here, Mulligan fronts a 10-piece, heavy-on-the-brass ensemble that blows through a half-dozen jazz chestnuts. The punchy arrangements were penned by another famed saxman, Al Cohn, and other jazz heavyweights, such as trumpeter Clark Terry (whose brash solos nearly steal the show) and drummer Mel Lewis, also join in.
The band breezes its way in and out of hard-hitting renditions of "Blueport" and Mulligan's own "Let My People Be." They tap a fresh vein in the over-recorded "Body and Soul." And they bounce their way through the rollicking, scandalously titled "Lady Chatterley's Mother."
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Despite its legendary status, the Village Vanguard was and is a tiny venue, and no doubt this swinging little-big band had to be shoehorned onto the stage for its December 1960 show. But if this disc is any indication, the tight fit only added to the intimacy. Because it sounds like these guys are having a blast and blasting through the roof.