Elvin Jones: Dear John C.
Analogue Productions CIPJ 88 SA
Elvin Jones (drums)
Richard Davis (bass)
Sir Roland Hanna & Hank Jones (pianos)
Charlie Mariano (alto saxophone)
Drummer Elvin Jones may have been breaking down new rhythmic boundaries at the time with John Coltrane's Quartet but his own sessions as a leader were not all that innovative. This quartet set with altoist Charlie Mariano, bassist Richard Davis and either Roland Hanna or Hank Jones on piano is an example of how the avant-garde of the era was starting to influence the more mainstream players. The music is in general safe but enjoyable with the virtuosic bassist Richard Davis often taking solo honors on what was in reality a modern bop date.
Mastered by Kevin Gray.
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Review by Mark Werlin - October 20, 2016
Analogue Productions' 22 Impulse SACD releases included several bona fide masterpieces and more than a few lesser-known works of variable artistic value. "Dear John C." is probably not at the head of many jazz lovers' list of must-have recordings, but the passing of time has proven the album's worth. It is one of a handful of recordings of the gifted alto sax player Charlie Mariano available in hi-res audio. Mariano is the featured soloist on the album and this reissue is well worth owning for his performances.
At a glance, altoist Charlie Mariano seems out of place in the company of Elvin Jones, his older brother Hank Jones, avant-garde bassist Richard Davis and Charles Mingus alumnus Roland Hanna. The Boston-born son of Italian immigrants had worked in his hometown throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, toured with Stan Kenton's orchestra and collaborated with West Coast jazz figures Shorty Rogers and Shelley Manne. Mariano was an admirer of Charlie Parker but not an imitator; he didn't sound like his East Coast contemporaries Jackie McLean and Cannonball Adderley, or like West Coasters Paul Desmond and Bud Shank.
Charles Mingus resonated with Mariano's playing. The composer featured him on Charles Mingus: Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
and Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, the two large-ensemble recording sessions for Impulse. (Mariano also performed at Mingus' Town Hall concert/recording session the previous year.) Elvin Jones chose Mariano to be the sole horn for the present recording, Jones's second album as a leader on Impulse. That choice was fortuitous as it led to one of the most striking sessions in Jones' discography.
The music on "Dear John C." was recorded in two sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's studio, on February 23 and 25, 1965. Three of the nine pieces are trios for alto sax, bass and drums (Smoke Rings, This Love of Mine, Everything Happens to Me), three are quartets with Hank Jones at the piano (Anthropology, Fantazm, Feeling Good) and three with Roland Hanna (Ballade, Love Bird, Dear John C.) It's a very spare approach to arrangement, especially in the startling rendition of Mingus' Reincarnation of a Love Bird (title abbreviated in the liner notes and disc), that places equal focus on each of the participants and, from an audiophile perspective, allows each of the instruments to be presented with clarity and impact hard to achieve in that era on recordings of larger ensembles.
Mariano was at peak form in February 1965. Then 41 years old, he brought to the sessions decades of hard-won professional experience, outstanding technique, and an individualistic musical conception that leaned towards the soulful more than the cerebral. He could play sweetly without sounding maudlin or old-fashioned, and he could play forcefully without imitating Rollins or Coltrane or the younger New Thing players. That he felt up to recording the intricate Mingus composition—as the sole melodic instrument—reveals a level of confidence that few players could have equaled.
There's something very touching about the rare meetings between Hank and Elvin Jones. The pianist brought out Elvin's gentler side, his intuitive responsiveness to Hank's elegant improvisations. Roland Hanna lends a more aggressive edge to the February 25 session that is evident in the title track, a variation on Coltrane's modal tune Impressions. Hanna was stylistically closer to the swing roots of bop than Trane's pianist McCoy Tyner, and the impression he makes (pun intended) is one of positive exuberance.
The Analogue Production SACD of "Dear John C." was remastered by Kevin Gray. There is a 96/24 download of "Dear John C." that may or may not have been transferred directly from analogue sources; technical details were not provided to the download vendors by the label. I haven't heard that particular transfer, but I do have two of the recent 192/24 downloads of John Coltrane's Impulse recordings. In researching and preparing this review, I did listening comparisons between this Kevin Gray-mastered SACD and Verve Label Group's new 192/24 transfers.
The sessions for Coltrane's "Crescent" have proximity to the "Dear John C." sessions, and based on their similar sound quality, I think it likely that both reissues were derived from Rudy Van Gelder's original master tapes. By contrast, the 192/24 download of the 1962 Impulse album "Coltrane" was probably transferred from the second-generation compressed master tape used for the "Coltrane: Deluxe Edition" 2-CD set. If the sound quality of the 192/24 of "Coltrane" is markedly inferior to that of "Crescent", "Dear John C." sounds very close in quality to "Crescent" and to the excellent 192/24 transfer of Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch", another Van Gelder milestone recording from the same period of time.
Richard Davis' bass is forward in the mix with good low extension and punch. Elvin Jones' ferocious attack may have scared some engineers, but not the phlegmatic Van Gelder. In this session, as in "Crescent", Elvin plays with subtlety and restraint, very much in control. Careful microphone placement and judicious use of plate reverb preserves the details of brushes on ride cymbals, snare hits and floor tom fills while creating the illusion of greater room depth. Van Gelder employed different microphones for each pianist he recorded, and only he knew what criteria determined which microphone. The recording of Roland Hanna on the February 25 session sounds less transparent—and less pleasing—than the sound of Hank Jones at the February 23 session. Mariano's distinctive timbre especially benefits from the spare arrangements and good quality source tape.
There seems to be no resolution to the impasse between audiophile listeners who wish to know the provenance of what they are buying and the corporate owners of jazz catalogs for whom it is an ingrained cultural reflex to withhold such proprietary information. The future of the Impulse albums catalog is now in the hands of Verve Label Group management. Let's hope that their 192/24 series of John Coltrane downloads is the beginning of a renewed effort at preservation and reissue in high resolution of this remarkable music collection.
Copyright © 2016 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net