Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges (Verve, 1959)

This LP is one of a series of "Meets" recordings that baritone saxophonist and composer Gerry Mulligan recorded for Verve in the 1950's. His partner on the front line is alto saxophonist and Duke Ellington cohort Johnny Hodges who also contributed some compositions to this session. Claude Williamson on piano, Buddy Clark on bass and Mel Lewis on drums round out the band. The music is predictably mild and swinging, with the emphasis on cooperation rather than confrontation. Mulligan's dark, cool sound makes for an excellent contrast with Hodges light and fleet tone. The tunes are pretty simple blowing vehicles and there is plenty of room for the principals to solo at length and trade ideas. The trio backs them with professionalism and class. While it would have been nice to hear some sparks really fly, this is a nice meeting of two unique stylists and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in small group swing.

Tin Hat - The Sad Machinery of Spring (Hannibal, 2007)

Now simply Tin Hat after some change of members, the group formerly know as The Tin Hat Trio still mines the atmospheric. Sadness and melancholy are on display here, but not overwhelmingly so as violins ache and clarinets bubble through the intersection of jazz, classical and world music. "Blind Paper Dragon" breaks free for a very jaunty trumpet led romp, melding gypsy swing with downtown jazz, as harpist Zeena Parkins harp adds Alice Coltrane-like comments. The strange but alluring version of "Daisy Bell" brings back memories of the HAL 9000 computer's version in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the vocals bring an ever increasing sense of strangeness and the band builds the drama behind the lyrics. The only downside to this otherwise interesting album is that a lot of the tunes start to sound similar and blend into one another after a while and pass by in something of a hazy blur. But if you are looking for atmospheric music with a bit of Eastern European tinge, this cinematic music will fit the bill quite nicely.

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