As a baritone saxophonist, New York City native Gil Melle should rank among the greatest of his era, alongside his hero, Sweden's Lars Gullin, or Americans Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, and Cecil Payne. He should also be considered one of the great composers of post-bop. Sadly his name is considered a footnote, and remained so up to his passing in 2004. But in the heyday of jazz in the mid-'50s, these complete sessions for the Prestige label confirm he deserved upper echelon honors. Compiled from the albums Melle Plays Primitive Modern, Quadrama, Gil's Guests, and three extra cuts from an unfinished LP, this double CD provides more than enough evidence of what a brilliant author, bandleader, and musician Melle was. His greatest asset was expressed in a clever, disparate, expansive way of choosing to deal out progressive jazz in a personal way, one that took cues from Béla Bartók, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Gigi Gryce, and Stan Kenton without copping any of their approaches. It might be suggested that his astounding style and technique cleverly trumped them all if you listen closely to the complexities he had undertaken. The first of the five sessions is a trim and lean quartet with guitar and bari sax, driven by drummer Ed Thigpen playing abstract yet tasteful lines. "Adventure Swing" starts slow and sexy, then elevates to bop, a "Dedicatory Piece to the Geophysical Year of 1957" espouses wondrous freedom and symmetry in easy swing with counterpoint chatting, while "Iron Works" is a Charles Mingus like hot calypso bop. Bassist George Duvivier and drummer Shadow Wilson are swapped out for the second quartet date with two standards, including the off minor treatment of "It Don't Mean a Thing," the simple original blues "Full House," and the suspended pedal point bass driven, unrushed "Rush Hour in Hong Kong." Thigpen returns for three tracks with the first in a triad of septets. It is headed by Melle, trumpeter Art Farmer, French horn master Julius Watkins, and alto saxophonist Hal McKusick, as they collectively advance the modern primitive precept to a different multi-layered/timbred arena. "Tomorrow" is louder and brash, closer to the progressive sounds of Mingus, Oliver Nelson, and Gil Evans. McKusick's solo work marks him a preeminent Lee Konitz, but in fact he retains his own individuality -- he's special. The outstanding "Soudan" closely mirrors the influence of Bartók, with brass up front and Melle in a support role. A second seven-piece combo with tuba player Don Butterfield and Kenny Dorham in for Farmer is highlighted by the contrasting, darker, mysterious piece "Still Life," a brash and outspoken bopper "Sixpence," and an eastern or Eurasian feel during the in-and-out-of unison line for "Ghengis," again showing the ingenious Bartók touch. One more mid-sized group with Wilson, Duvivier, Farmer, McKusick, tenor saxophonist Seldon Powell and vibraphonist Teddy Charles offers a sly, smart blues "Funk for Star People," the three in four beat start-stop "Golden Age," and the sped up bop of "Herbie" for Herbie Nichols. Joe Cinderella (yes, that's his real name) is the guitarist throughout. He's an exceptional player rivaling fellow Joe Pass, leaving the jazz scene three years later. Shortly after these albums were released, Melle also left the jazz world, moved to Los Angeles, was involved in film scores and explored electronic music, returning to jazz in the early '90s. While it is a shame he did not stick to his guns, this intellectually stimulating, oft times amazing music and timeless jazz deserves more accolades, even if well after the fact.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2