The Mosaic Select series continues -- having released eight impressive volumes n the calendar year 2003 -- this being the last, it's a provocative set in that it compiles five Duke Pearson albums from 1968-1970, all of them centered around his "exotic period: The Phantom, Merry Ole Sole, How Insensitive, It Could Only Happen With You, and I Don't Care Who Knows It. In addition, it places all of those recording sessions in their proper chronological order and includes two completely unreleased tracks.
What these sessions -- completely immersed in Brazilian and Latin rhythms and melodies -- all have in common is drummer Mickey Roker. The most common rhythm section here is Roker with bassist Bob Cranshaw, who plays on all but two of these sessions. Around this catalyst, Pearson's albums recruited a number of soloists and ensemble players from Bobby Hutcherson and flutists Jerry Dodgion and Hermeto Pascoal, guitarist Ralph Towner, vocalists Flora Purim and Andy Bey, and percussionists from Airto to Potato Valdes. The size of the ensembles varies from quintet to nonet with a chorus of no less than 17 voices on How Insensitive. The material here reflects Pearson's complete abandonment of hard bop tempos, but not the blues. Here, blues, soul, and bossa entwine on each album with different colors and textures and play out not against one another, but in concert. Given the close proximity of these sessions to one another and Pearson's increasing focus on rhythm, the album that stands out here is The Phantom -- for being the hinge between his past and his present. The Phantom is more like a classic soul-jazz date with Brazilian and Latin flavors, rather than a set of tunes that delves deeply into the polyrhythmic complexities of south-of-the-equator jazz. It acts as a cornerstone for Pearson's trademark harmonic sensibilities, and puts forth the notion that he was always looking for the exotic in his tonal studies and in his melodic excursions into folk music and Brazilian pop. Simply put, there is nothing here that is remotely substandard or lacking. Indeed, given some of Pearson's other soul-jazz experiments, and his often unpredictable compositions, these five recordings represent one of the most successful melds of modern jazz with exotica and pop. The music is blindingly sophisticated and original, and is played with verve, grace, and passion, making this an indispensable set.