The beauty of Mulligan music is in the counterpoint with trumpet and baritone intertwining and dancing together.

SteepleChase SCCD 36506

Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax); Art Farmer (trumpet); Bill Crow (bass); Dave Bailey (drums)

Recorded Falkoner Centret, Copenhagen May 21,1959

The Steeplechase album is particularly valuable, because this version of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Art Farmer made just one studio album.  Gerry Mulligan is an underappreciated major figure: great writer, supreme baritone saxophone player.  Art Farmer is a brass player of melodic intensity. Mulligan’s writing for the ‘Birth of the Cool’ band helped to create a new style.  His creation of the first quartet with Chet Baker changed jazz profoundly because the simplicity of line and texture allowed listeners to appreciate how the improvisation worked. The popularity of the quartet on the west coast with queues forming round venues and record sales soaring surprised the jazz world.  Later, the Concert Jazz Band in the early sixties, set a different way of writing for large groups.

In 1952 the first quartet with Chet Baker freed jazz from the chordal tyranny of the piano and because of the skills of the players gave jazz a spontaneous improvised counterpoint and  lyricism.  Valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer in 1956 took over from Baker until replaced by Art Farmer in 1959. The beauty of Mulligan music is in the counterpoint with trumpet and baritone intertwining and dancing together. There is plenty of that in this concert.  At its best, there are spontaneous Bach like inventions.

Mulligan as a baritone player is at the polar opposite to the other great baritone player Harry Carney.  Carney is earthy and deep, anchoring the whole Ellington band whereas Mulligan is light, verging towards the tenor sound. Mulligan on ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ is particularly effective.  He uses the beautiful melody to create an improvisation of great harmonic richness.

Mulligan thinking about this quartet said: ‘I guess during that period, I must have put together the quartet, which in a way, was one of my favourite quartets. I really like that group, because Art Farmer brought a totally different kind of approach to it and the arrangements that we evolved. Whether they had a arrangements or written out, they were altogether different. It was kind of a different departure. So, I like that group a lot.’

Mulligan appreciated the difficulty of a player like Art Farmer of working without the chord prompting of the piano. Mulligan remarked:  ‘The thing with the quartet with Art, in its way, it’s probably the most sophisticated of all the groups. I probably wrote more for that group too. I wrote a lot of arrangements for it, and the kind of thing that I was always trying to achieve with that group was that the written things shouldn’t sound written.’

‘I Can’t Get Started’ is all Farmer.  His playing in many ways differs from Baker.  Farmer has a greater range, a brassier tone, an inclination to take risks and an absence of the maudlin overtones cultivated by Baker. Mulligan plays arranger piano accompanying the trumpeter through the melody.

One of the highlights of the concert is Art Farmer’s ‘Blueport ’as Farmer and Mulligan trade phrases in a joyful celebration of their inventiveness and creativity.  Crow and Bailey drive the solos ferociously and fiercely. The audience vehemently express their appreciation.  Mulligan later adapted the piece for the Concert Jazz Band.

Bassist Bill Crow went on to work with the Concert Jazz Band and even later developed his journalistic skills. Two of his books are wryly amusing views of the jazz world.  Crow’s work on this album has fluidity and energy.  He is completely in lockstep with drummer Dave Bailey giving the quartet a secure base.

‘What is There to Say?’ (Columbia) was the only studio album of this quartet. In the notes to the Columbia album, Mulligan says that ‘playing jazz is fun to me’.  You can plainly hear that fun in the music played to the audience in Copenhagen.  Fun?  Not a bad ambition.

Reviewed by Jack Kenny