Monday, October 19, 2009

Jazz Icon Series DVDs: Garner, Hawkins, Farmer

Naxos has been releasing a series of rare jazz performances on a series of DVDs called "Jazz Icons." Each grouping of releases is available singly or as a box set. The fourth installment will be out on October 27th and I have been sampling three volumes in the batch: to wit, DVDs of Erroll Garner, Art Farmer and Coleman Hawkins.

First of all, the prices. These are quite a bargain.

The good price does not come through a sacrifice in quality. Nicely packaged with an illuminating 20-page booklet, each volume has been carefully transferred from the original source videos/films and come across with good audio and sharp visuals.

The three I've been enjoying each have their own merits. Coleman Hawkins' disk gives you a solid 140 minutes of the Bean in two settings. The first from a 1962 appearance in Belgium finds Coleman's tenor in very good form, perhaps inspired by the company of sympathetic sideman--the nearly forgotten pianist Georges Avanitas, veteran drummer Kansas Fields, the solid bassist Jimmy Woode. They do a fairly long set that swings well and has plenty of great tenor characteristic of Hawkin's later period. The second segment hails from a 1964 BBC show and teams Coleman with the great "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, the laconically profound Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woode again and the pioneering Jo Jones on drums. As the booklet admits, Hawkins takes a few numbers to find his groove on this second appearance but he is never uninteresting. The addition of Edison and Thompson gives the group two more very game soloists. And to hear and watch Jo Jones in action is a real treat. By 1964 he was an elder statesman of the music but he sounds as youthful as his early days with the Count. And there's a solo spot for him on "Caravan" that has as much visual as aural interest. There aren't that many people left who were lucky enough to have caught Coleman Hawkins in person. As the father of the modern tenor his authority is undisputed today. Watch this video and you'll understand why.

The Erroll Garner disk brings his trio out front with two appearances dating from 1963 and 1964, respectively. Erroll was such a magnificently full pianist that his accompanying trio were mostly foreshadowed by his musical enormity. But here as ever they give a good accounting of the art of accompanying. It's the inimitable pianistic attack of Garner that is the main attraction. He is in fine form for both dates. Seeing him visually in the throes of a solo can help you understand his rhythmic thrust. He often nods his head in a two against three pattern to the four square swing flow and it underscores through gesture the polyrhythmic swinging he mastered so fully. This is joyous pianism. Fine sound and clear visuals bring the Garner live experience home in bold relief.

Art Farmer's disk features his subtly burning, undersung quartet. There's Farmer's cooly passionate fluegelhorn, Jim Hall's suave and creative guitar, the innovative Steve Swallow on bass, and the hot yet very intelligent drumming of Pete LaRoca. If you need reminding, this 1966 date from England tells the story of Art in all his greatness, as musician and bandleader. He had affinities with Miles Davis of course, but he built up his own citadel of musical illumination and the concert represented here shows you how solid that was. He and the band are absolutely phenomenal on this day.

So that's my take on these three volumes. This is part of the fourth set and they all look interesting.

To find out about the content of all four Jazz Icon installements, and to enter a sweepstakes and get a chance to win the complete four-box set, go to The contest ends October 22nd.

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