Two of my favourite recordings are The Newest Sound Around, the early 1960s debut album from Lee and Blake, and the latter’s Breakthru, the arrestingly chiselled solo session this most literate and incisive of pianists recorded in the mid-1970s for Paul Bley’s Improvising Artists label. So it would be something of an understatement to say I was delighted to receive this double-CD of previously unissued gems for review.
Recorded during a tour of Europe, the sound of the radio studio cuts here is excellent, with every nuance of the pair’s extraordinary empathy allowed to shine in ringingly lucid space. There are several compelling solo pieces, such as Blake’s now strongly swinging, now deeply introspective Honeysuckle Rose and the ever-soulful, ever-intelligent Lee’s intimate yet boldly pitched reading of the Billie Holiday classic Billie’s Blues.
But the main joy here is the quicksilver yet unhurried understanding evinced by the pair. Relish, e.g., the sombre melodic musings of (Ornette Coleman’s) Lonely Woman, the blues-shot scat of Parker’s Mood or the joyous rhythmic twists of A-Train and the harmonic magic worked on Green Dolphin Street – a magic which receives illuminating musicological appraisal in a sleeve essay by Danilo Perez.
The recitals range far and wide. Monk’s opening Misterioso sets the tone, with its added lyrics from Gertrude Stein, and while I would willingly have swopped pieces like Laura or Church On Russell Street (from The Newest Sound Around) for the Beatles and Dylan pieces here, the extensively refigured Hard Day’s Night and Tambourine Man sit well enough in this soul-soaked, elegantly intelligent and diamond-cut music.
Here is an art which traverses genre and historical epoch, blues and gospel trope, melodic pitch, harmonic framework and swinging rhythmic accent as assuredly as it does matters moody and poetic, pointed and political.
The music’s surpassing quality is matched by its presentation: the beautifully designed quadruple-fold packaging features atmospheric black and white photography as well as some strikingly quirky linear imagery from Blake, and Perez’s appreciative analytical essay is complemented by an informative historical overview from Dominique Eade. An outstanding release.
CD1: (1) Misterioso; Honeysuckle Rose; On Green Dolphin Street; A Hard Day’s Night; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; Hallelujah, I Love Him So; Night And Day; Ja-Da (Take 1); Something’s Coming; Just Squeeze Me; God’s Image; Retribution; Smoke After Smoke; Parker’s Mood; Caravan; Beautiful City; Birmingham U.S.A.; Ja-Da (Take 2); Take The A-Train (57.40)
CD2: (2) Out Of This World; Mister Tambourine Man; Round About; Moonlight In Vermont; The Frog, The Fountain, And Aunt Jane; Billie’s Blues; Night In Tunisia; My Favourite Things; Blue Monk; Lonely Woman; Caravan; The Man I Love; Something To Live For; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (52.14)
Lee (v); Blake (p), (1) Studio 1, Vlaamse Radio, 21 October 1966; (2) Europe 1967, details unknown.
a-side records 0005