Finally, here is the first appearance on CD of Raymond Scott's 1960 album The Unexpected. This was Scott's swansong to the small-group jazz format he'd helped pioneer in the mid-'30s, but anyone expecting to encounter an updated version of Scott's echt-1937 Quintette will be in for a disappointment. All of Scott's productions of the LP era, save Soothing Sounds for Baby, are a mixed bag, and The Unexpected is a project even some of Scott's most dedicated admirers find arcane and impenetrable. Nonetheless, The Unexpected is an extraordinary release in many ways, even for Raymond Scott. There are the "secret" personnel to consider, not known to the public in Scott's lifetime, and as his handwritten sheet identifying the group was somehow lost, it was once feared that the membership of "the Secret 7" would always remain a mystery. But an interview with jazz harmonica legend Jean "Toots" Thielemans revealed the answer -- in addition to Scott, vocalist Dorothy Collins, and Thielemans himself, the rest of the group was Harry "Sweets" Edison, trumpet; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Sam "The Man" Taylor, tenor sax; Wild Bill Davis, Hammond organ; Eddie Costa, piano and vibes; Milt Hinton, bass; and Elvin Jones, drums. Many of these same players worked with Scott on an album he'd produced in 1958 for singer Gloria Lynne; both Hinton and Sam "The Man" had also joined Scott for a number of other projects as well, including the ill-conceived Rock & Roll Symphony.
You would think with such high-octane players that Scott would've given them a bit of room to stretch out. Actually, he does nothing of the kind -- these 12 rather short pieces sport relatively few solos by anyone, and only Thielemans is given any time in the spotlight. So Scott keeps a pretty tight rein on things, and in the four standards presented here that makes for some pretty unremarkable listening. But to ignore the balance of the record for the sake of these four tunes would be to miss out on what a weird and wonderful jazz record this is. First of all, there are the two controversial Dorothy Collins selections where her voice is speeded up; on "And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon" Collins sounds like a stressed-out Martian. There are hints of Scott's fascination with electronic devices, as "And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon" ends with an electronically generated cow "moo," or in the gunshot heard at the end of "Quiet Entrance," probably the only song in Scott's entire book that's based on a 12-bar blues change. The pieces "Waltz of the Diddles," "A Message from Where," and "March of the Diddles" are all worthy of Scott's earlier Raymond Scott Quintette literature, which for many remains his stylistic hallmark. These pieces generally tend to be more complex and ambitious, yet shorter than his earlier works. The very shortness of the pieces works against them; you really need to listen at least a couple of times to figure out what is going on. But once you've got a grip on The Unexpected, its virtues becomes obvious. It may not become your favorite Raymond Scott album, but all "true believers" must know it is an essential part of Scott's oeuvre. Others who are less predisposed to Scott's earlier music may yet like The Unexpected a little better; open-mindedness doesn't hurt in approaching it. In any event, The Unexpected is certainly a way better album than The Rock & Roll Symphony.