Essential Jazz Classics – Re-issues from Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Red Garland, Art Tatum and Ben Webster


The mid to late 50s was a near perfect time for jazz. As post-bop and cool jazz emerged from Charlie Parker’s bebop shake-up, the genre’s top artists were refining the sound. In a few short years, jazz would be set on its ear again by Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus among others who once again pushed the very definitions of the genre, but this period in the 50s produced some astoundingly good music even if, and perhaps because, it was perfecting the current state of jazz rather than running off to totally new horizons. Essential Jazz Classics has recently released a set of CDs that collects some of that period’s best albums along with some interesting bonus material.

Clifford Brown / Sonny Rollins / Max Roach Quintet
Complete Studio Recordings
Rating: 4.5/5
The Clifford Brown/Sonny Rollins/Max Roach Quintet’s Complete Studio Recordings collects two classics, Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street and Sonny Rollins Plus Four. As good as Rollins is, he’s simply overshadowed by Brown and Roach here as they bring much needed punch that makes these albums real standouts. 

Art Tatum & Ben Webster
The Album
Rating: 4/5
Art Tatum and Ben Webster’s The Album features the lone studio collaboration between these two giants (and Tatum’s last session before his death). The mastering doesn’t do much to clean up this recording, but, while that’s a shame, the bonus material featuring Tatum playing many of the same songs as a soloist more than makes up for it. The man was just a monster on the piano and it’s nothing short of incredible to hear that fully exposed in this way. 

Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus
Rating: 3.5/5
The best known of the re-issues is Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus. This Rollins classic is a great example of his smooth playing, but at times is upstaged by Max Roach’s drumming. Roach is just a monster on the drums and that really makes this one a must hear album. This re-issue also includes Work Time, not considered one of Rollins’ very best albums, but it certainly doesn’t miss by much. 

Red Garland
The 1956 Trio
Rating: 4.5/5
Perhaps the most interesting of these re-issues is Red Garland’s The 1956 Trio, which features the A Garland in Red album with selections from Groovy and Red Garland’s Piano. Of the four albums, I was least familiar with Garland’s playing and that may be what made this album really stand out. He gets so much out of the piano and is equally dynamic on slow tunes as he is on the more upbeat material. Add some monster bass parts from Paul Chambers and it’s clear why this album is worth re-issuing, particularly for those unfamiliar with Garland’s work. 

All in all, this is a fine set of re-issues, particularly for younger or more cursory jazz fans who haven’t heard these great albums. All include liner notes with a lot of information that add a little education to these great listens.

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