More than any musical genre, jazz seems to be the one where you can wake up and learn that a benchmark recording by one of the ultimate heavies — Miles, Trane, Duke — has turned up in some archive, or in a tape operator’s sock drawer. The roll call of “new” instant classics has been impressive of late, especially in terms of live recordings. There may be no more quotidian musical form than jazz, no genre that better lends itself to daily creation. Gigs by rock musicians tend to be pretty samey. Classical musicians adhere to scores. But jazzers mix up the medicine, big time.
Consider, for instance, pianist’s Red Garland’s “Swingin’ on the Corner” on Elemental, cut in December 1977 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner with the wonderfully named Leroy Vinnegar on bass and that mad bomb-dropper of a drummer, Philly Joe Jones, having an end-of-career flourish. Garland and Jones are best known for their roles in Miles Davis’s first great quintet 20 years earlier. But while Garland comped away with his block chords on that band’s quintessential sides, he didn’t stretch out a lot.
Here, you get a pianist with a knack for making 88 keys sound about double. Garland’s scalar runs get Jones going, and even if you’re not a drum solo kind of person, Jones’s outings here are richly tapestried, with high rhythmic thread counts such that you feel enveloped rather than put upon. The Garland tone is creamy top with discordances below, perhaps jazz’s version of Schumann’s take on Chopin’s playing as suggesting cannons buried below flowers.
Davis himself is a regular in the discovery game, and copiously documented. Still, you’re going to want to check out Acrobat’s four-disc “All of You: The Last Tour of 1960,” even though — brace yourselves, purists — it comes on CD-r. This was John Coltrane’s last go-around as the band’s tenorman, and he wanted out; you can hear it in his raging, keening solos.
The same label’s “So Many Things: The European Tour 1961” is Trane post-Miles, and provides the saxophonist’s fans with the perfect companion set to the first Village Vanguard recordings. We’re talking glorified bootleg sound, but if you want to feel like you’re having your mind blown in the second balcony, the opening “Blue Train” from L’Olympia in Paris makes its studio counterpart feel like a cable car.
That’s still the swinging side of Coltrane; for the scabrous, febrile, and still fascinating side seen late in his career, look to Resonance’s “Offering: Live at Temple University,” from 1966. This is the tenor’s end game: a giant musical swoosh of blackness, intruded upon by that strange, crazy dawn that always seemed to be emerging from Coltrane’s horn.
Easier on the ears is Elemental’s two-disc “The Jimmy Giuffre 3&4: New York Concerts,” taped in 1965. Giuffre is one of those undersung multi-instrumentalists who changed jazz minus the fanfare of the standard titans. “Quadrangle,” from Columbia University, is a sophisticated chart with the sweet swing of the Basie band; hear it once, and it’s easy to have Giuffre become one of your go-to musicians.
And then there is Mosaic’s gargantuan 9-CD “The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions,” with a whole lot of best-ever-sounding Charlie Parker sides that make his case as jazz’s single greatest talent. We tend to think of Modernism in terms of vorticistic poems and recondite novels about wandering around Dublin, not the fare of a label that cranked out sessions with the hope of moving product — but what a smorgasbord of jazz futurism this is. Even beyond Parker: When Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray throw down vigorously on 1947’s “The Chase,” you’d think they were channeling the listener’s own delight at the shock of the old being made new again.
Colin Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.