Charlie Parker; Dizzy Gillespie; Bud Powell; Max Roach; Charles Mingus; The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall

Published on May 22nd, 2012 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Jemiah Jefferson

the quintet cover

This new remaster of The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall—a truly historic convergence of five of the most celebrated musicians in jazz—is so classic, so iconic, that at first it’s hard to understand what’s so special about it. It really does take some schooling, and some careful and studied listening, before the true magic trick is revealed. For anyone with an interest in jazz, however, this album is essential listening, and can be enjoyed without knowledge of its importance.

For relative jazz newbies like myself, a quick history lesson is handy. In May of 1953, some Canadian jazz fans managed to schedule a once-in-a-lifetime gig at Massey Hall in Toronto. Somehow, the schedules of all five jazzmen allowed the convergence to happen; they had all played together before, but not all of them at once.

By 1953, these five musicians had reached a pinnacle of craft that allowed them to decide on a set list on the day of the show; they knew the tunes, and could freely improvise with one another. It was a fairly relaxed thing, apparently; three songs, then a break to watch the results of the boxing match that everybody else in town was watching, then back for three more. The concert hall was less than half full. Stage banter is clearly audible. They sound like they’re having fun, but not slacking. It’s as though they knew how rare and precious this gig was.

When you consider the fact that these five dudes were Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Charlie “Bird” Parker, things begin to get more interesting. All five were, at this point, experienced bandleaders; though Bird is first billed, everyone seems to manage himself, as well as playing fluidly and brilliantly with everyone else. Each solo is a fine example of each man’s ability, and the enthusiastic audience response at the close of each one is gratifying. There’s a lot of Dizzy; his trumpet really does demand to be front and center, but only when he’s playing his conversational solos. There’s no grandstanding here, just, as they used to say, “introspection.”

The remastering is good by these ears; making something crystalline out of a recording taped from a single standing mike near Mingus is no job for a fool (though, apparently, Mingus slipped so far down in the original recording that he later did overdubs of his own parts). It’s been given space and focus, which imparts immediacy. And who wouldn’t have wanted to be there?

The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall was released by Concord Music Group on May 15, through their Original Jazz Classics Remasters label. You can order the disc directly from their website.

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