Despite a very challenging business environment, Michael Cuscuna at Mosaic Records continues to
amalgamate and release outstanding jazz collections. If you like big-band music with a modern
flair, I highly recommend two of the newest releases:
1. The Quincy Jones ABC/Mercury Big Band Jazz Sessions (#237)
Before he was a pop music and multimedia force (both as lead artist and even more successfully as
producer and impresario), Quincy Jones was a first-rate jazz arranger and ensemble builder/leader.
This set collects what I'll call his pre-pop recordings, most of which was with an operating Big
Band that Quincy tried to hold together and tour with in 1959-61. The effort was a financial
failure but some great albums resulted from having a crack ensemble available to play some very
sharp and interesting arrangements. Most of this material never made it to USA-issue CD's and the
Japan PolyGram CD's are long out of print. Ellen Fitton and Malcolm Addey went back to the master
tapes and did a really fine job of transferring (Fitton) and mastering for CD (Addey). These
versions blow away the original LPs and the older CD's, sound-wise, plus it's nice to have
everything collected in one place. If you dig big band music and want to hear a very competent,
clever and original take on the format, modernized for the early 1960's but not veering into pop
palaver, Quincy is tops!
Truth in posting -- I am given a "thanks" on this set in the booklet but received no monetary
compensation; I helped out with some discography info and old source material for the booklet (and
pestered Mike for a couple of years to release this so I sure hope it sells quickly and completely).
Disc 2 was recorded at Fine Recording.
2. Mosaic Select: Woody Herman (MS-031)
Woody Herman had a crack band and a book of fresh material in the early 60's, but like most of the
40's band greats, he wasn't exactly in demand all over. His brief tenure as a Philips recording
artist changed that. This set collects the two big-band studio albums, "Woody Herman 1963" and
"Woody Herman 1964" and complete concerts from 1963 at Basin Street West in L.A. and 1964 at
Harrah's Lake Tahoe resort. All of this material except "Woody Herman 1963" has been long out of
print and I think the limited-release Verve "mini-LP" CD version of "1963" is now out of print too.
Again, hats off to Fitton and Addey for going back to the master tapes and doing it right. The
different recording styles are interesting. "1964" was recorded by a young Phil Ramone and some of
the live material was recorded by a young Wally Heider.
What I like best about both of these collections is that they demonstrate that interesting and new
things were happening with large ensemble jazz in the 60's. Much historical attention gets focused
on soloists and small ensembles, but the big bands were still progressing their art forward and many
of the musical ideas on these albums found their way into TV, movie and Broadway soundtracks later
in the decade. That's not to say either of these collections are the least bit schmaltzy -- rather,
they have a crisp, modern feeling and sound very much updated vs. Swing-era heyday material.
Actually, two other great examples of this sort of music from Mosaic, both with their own unique
takes on it are:
The Oliver Nelson Verve/Impulse Big Band Sessions (#233)
The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson (#198)
-- Tom Fine