Live Alive

Rare sides from the Left Bank

By Greg Cahill

FOR LONGTIME jazz producer Joel Dorn, it was the Holy Grail. Nearly 15 years ago, Dorn–who recently left the acclaimed 32 Jazz and whose production credits include many of the biggest names in the jazz world–heard that the legendary Left Bank Jazz Society had made home recordings of the concerts the organization promoted after its inception in 1964.

Just as jazz buff Dean Benedetti used to record Charlie “Bird” Parker on a portable tape recorder, sometimes squirreled away inside a cramped toilet stall for soundproofing, the Jazz Society preserved these performances for posterity. However, the society was hesitant to share its treasure. Hundreds of hours of live tapes languished in storage for more than 30 years until Dorn’s dogged determination finally paid off. In May of this year, the society struck a deal.

As the first major project on his new label–Label M–the Live at the Left Bank series has debuted with a pair of knockout recordings by two very different saxophone masters: Sonny Stitt & His Electric Saxophone: Just the Way It Was, and Stan Getz: My Foolish Heart.

The Stitt release, recorded in March of 1971 at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, is short on sonic quality but crackles with energy as the saxophonist leads a trio through a supercharged session of soul jazz that pushes the boundaries of rhythm. As a sideman who played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, Stitt studied hard and served as a musical bridge between the highbrow world of bebop and the closer-to-the-groin realm of soul jazz. Here Stitt is a wild man, riffing and reeling in a dazzling display of his musical prowess. His sax is pushed to the limits–squawking and squeaking, electrified and electrifying–sounding at times almost otherworldly as Stitt winds his way through a set of standards that include “Deuces Wild” and “Cry Me a River.”

On the other hand, My Foolish Heart showcases Getz’s lyrical side in a gorgeous 1975 date also taped at the Famous Ballroom. The band–Richie Beirach on piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums–sounds seasoned, and Getz is loose and swinging. This is one of the best live representations of Getz at his peak.

Future recordings in the Live at the Left Bank series include a recording by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, another featuring Cedar Walton (both scheduled for Nov. 7), and individual recordings of Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath (set for early 2001).

Spin du Jour

Jimmy Smith Root Down: Jimmy Smith Live! Verve

Miles Davis once called organist Jimmy Smith “the eighth wonder of the world.” This recent reissue of the 1972 LP–with a title track interpreted most famously in 1994 by the Beastie Boys–spotlights Smith and his lightning-fast B-3 organ riffs. Backed by Afro-Cuban beats and stone-cold ’70s funk grooves, Smith takes center stage on an unedited nearly 12-minute version of “Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow” on this expanded edition. Medeski, Martin and Wood, the Grey-Boy Allstars, and a new generation of soul jazzsters are following in Smith’s footsteps, but it’s doubtful anyone will ever catch up to this trailblazing master.–G.C.

From the October 12-18, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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