Here you have the first installment in the Classics Wardell Gray chronology. His earliest appearances on record can be found on this label's surveys of Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine. Having this brilliant saxophonist's recordings laid out in exact chronological order is both a treat for the connoisseur and a perfect introduction for those who haven't yet had the pleasure. Wardell Gray's first session as a leader took place in Los Angeles on November 23, 1946, in the excellent company of pianist Dodo Marmarosa, bassist Red Callender, and alternate drummers Harold "Doc" West and Chuck Thompson. These Sunset recordings were not issued commercially and languished for years in obscurity. Here the Lester Young influence is palpable, and Gray was gracious enough to acknowledge his idol with "One for Prez." The next step of the chronology lands listeners in New York during April and May of 1948, whereupon the saxophonist made four brilliant sides for the Sittin' in With record label backed by a rhythm trio featuring pianist Al Haig, and then sat in as a member of a septet led by virtuoso percussionist J.C. Heard. While the quartet date spotlights Gray and Haig, the Heard band glows with a front line of trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Benny Green, baritone saxophonist Tate Houston, and Wardell Gray. (Anyone who really loves this kind of music will feel better just contemplating that lineup.) After a smart little study in bop scat singing by Buddy Stewart, the next installment is the justifiably famous New Jazz session of November 11, 1949. Securely supported by Al Haig, Tommy Potter, and Roy Haynes, on that day Wardell Gray blew some of the best jazz of his entire all-too-brief career. The producers of the Classics Chronological Series wisely opted to present only the master takes, although interested parties are encouraged to tap into Wardell Gray Memorial, Vol. 1 on Prestige for multiple takes of both "Southside" and especially "Twisted" for audible proof of this man's wealth of creativity and imagination. Speaking of Prestige, this mind-blowing treasure trove of great vintage bop closes with four sides recorded for that label in Detroit, MI, on April 25, 1950. It's the perfect closer for this potent little package of essential early modern jazz. Every track is strong and solid, tight and right.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Buddy Stewart