Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Roach, Mingus: "The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall" (1953/2012 re-issue) CD Review

Concord Music Group is releasing a special re-issue of The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall as part of its Original Jazz Classics Remasters series.  Featuring five of the most well known names in music (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Mingus), this disc contains some amazing performances.  Recorded on May 15, 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto, this is one of the most famous concerts in the history of jazz.

And yet the venue was less than half full.  That's completely insane.  The reason given was that a heavyweight boxing match was scheduled for the same night.  It's impossible for me to imagine someone (anyone) preferring to watch two men punch each other than experience five insanely talented musicians playing their hearts out together. (People choosing violence over joy frightens me.) After all, this was a one-time thing.  These guys weren't touring as a group or anything.  A small group of Canadian jazz fans organized this show.

Charles Mingus taped this concert, and originally released it on his own label, Debut Records.  There are no bonus tracks because apparently this was it - this is everything that the five musicians played together on that one night (though there was other music performed).


This incredible quintet kicked off the show with "Perdido," written by Juan Tizol. This song has a nice swinging groove, and is a fun tune to start the night.  You can hear the audience totally digging it. They seem well aware of what a momentous occasion this concert was. 

The bass seems really prominent in the mix, even over Bud Powell's piano lead section.  (In the liner notes, it says there was a single stage microphone to capture all five musicians, and that the bass was lost, and so Mingus overdubbed some of his parts later.) 

This song has an abrupt ending. I wonder if the original tapes could be consulted to see if those extra seconds could be added back in.  It doesn't seem like we're missing any of the song, but the exact moment it ends, the disc then goes into the introduction of the second song.  It would be great to have every second of this performance, even the space between songs.

"Salt Peanuts"

"Salt Peanuts" includes a spoken intro to the song by Charlie Parker. After saying that Dizzy Gillespie wrote it, he adds, "We sincerely hope you do enjoy Salt Peanuts."  Oh yes, how couldn't I? "Salt Peanuts" is a very silly and deliciously fun tune, with interruptions of "salt peanuts, sale peanuts" near the beginning.  This song features a quick tempo, and some high-spirited playing.  It really sounds like these guy were having a phenomenal time, and totally grooving off of one another.  There is a very cool extended drum solo just before the end, and another shout of "salt peanuts, salt peanuts"

"Salt Peanuts" was written by Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Clarke. 

"All The Things You Are/52nd Street Theme"

Things relax a bit with Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are," which is actually rather pretty and sweet. I really like Gillespie's playing on this track.  "All The Things You Are" was written for the musical Very Warm For May.

"All The Things You Are" slides into Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme" right near the end of the track.

"Wee (Allen's Alley)"

"Wee (Allen's Alley)" is another quick-paced gem. This one moves with a wonderfully manic energy.  This track is delicious.  Gillespie is screaming at angels, and man, it's bloody awesome. There is a fantastic drum solo by Max Roach near at end, and it continues the manic pace. The crowd, of course, eats it up.  You will too.

Written by Denzil Best, this is one of the best pieces of recorded music I've ever heard.

"Hot House"

There is a brief spoken intro to "Hot House," a tune written by Tadd Dameron. Man, this one has such a cool vibe that it actually makes you feel like a cooler person just from having listened to it.  Charlie Parker gets pretty close to the microphone at one point, which is great, especially for those of us who want to immerse ourselves in this music, get closer and closer, have these guys play right into our brains.  Gillespie doesn't seem to get as close, but plays as loud as if he were right there.  And then Bud Powell's lead section is just terrific.  Charles Mingus then takes a turn at lead, which is also wonderful.

"A Night In Tunisia"

This CD closes with "A Night In Tunisia," which also has a brief intro.  Written by Dizzy Gillespie, this is the tune most familiar to me, one I've long loved. And this rendition is truly incredible.  Dizzy Gillespie is particularly impressive on this track.  And this one features some of the most joyful playing by Bud Powell.

CD Track List
  1. Perdido
  2. Salt Peanuts
  3. All The Things You Are/52nd Street Theme
  4. Wee (Allen's Alley)
  5. Hot House
  6. A Night In Tunisia

The five musicians on this album are Charlie Parker on alto saxophone, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Charles Mingus on bass, and Max Roach on drums.

This special re-issue of The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall is scheduled to be released on May 15, 2012 as part of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series.  Also being released that day are The Bill Evans Trio's Moonbeams and Thelonious Monk Quartet's Misterioso.

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