Gene Ammons

Left Bank Encores

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On June 24, 1973, Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society reunited one of the most legendary tenor teams of the bebop era: Gene "Jug" Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Like Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, Jug and Stitt were on the same team -- the bop team -- but loved to compete with one another and see who had the mightiest chops. That was in the late '40s and early '50s -- when the saxmen were reunited at that Baltimore concert in 1973, they weren't as competitive and battle-minded as they had been in their younger days. But their chops were still in top shape, and they could still swing unapologetically hard. Thankfully, that Baltimore gig was taped, although the performances went unreleased until the early '00s, when they became the focus of two Milestone releases: God Bless Jug and Sonny in 2001 and Left Bank Encores in 2002. This solid CD finds Ammons and Stitt providing an inspired two-tenor attack on material that ranges from "Blues Up and Down" to "Autumn Leaves" and "Just in Time"; only on "They Can't Take That Away from Me" does Stitt switch to alto. Guest vocalist Etta James is in fine form on "Exactly Like You" and her signature tune "Don't Go to Strangers," and the all-star rhythm section (pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Billy Higgins) takes over on "Theme from Love Story" (which gives the saxophonists a chance to lay out). "Theme from Love Story" is a tune that most jazzmen wouldn't think to perform, but it works well for the lyrical Walton. Like God Bless Jug and Sonny, Left Bank Encores falls short of essential, but is an enjoyable disc that Ammons and Stitt's hardcore fans will appreciate.

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