Tadd Dameron is known to proclaim that he became an arranger rather than stay an exclusive instrumentalist because it was the only way he could get his music played. In retrospect, considering his best-known works are widely revered, few of them are frequently played by other bands, and only the finest musicians are able to properly interpret them. Dameron's charts had an ebb and flow that superseded the basic approach of Count Basie, yet were never as quite complicated as Duke Ellington. Coming up in the bop movement, Dameron's music had to have been by definition holding broader artistic harmonics, while allowing for the individuality of his bandmembers. The Magic Touch includes a handful of Dameron's most beloved compositions, as well as those that were more obscure, and have still never been covered. When you look at the sheer talent level of the players on this recording -- Clark Terry, Charlie Shavers, Joe Wilder, Jimmy Cleveland, Britt Woodman, Julius Watkins, Jerry Dodgion, Jerome Richardson, Johnny Griffin, Bill Evans, Ron Carter, George Duvivier, et al. -- one has to be in awe of them, and that only Dameron was able to convene such a band of extraordinary jazz performers in their prime. To effectively rein them all in was the trick, keeping solos at a bare minimum, and blending their personalized sounds together so harmoniously. "If You Could See Me Now" is the most famous, the immortal ballad of regret featuring the Sarah Vaughan styled vocal of Barbara Winfield. She also appears on the restrained and serene "You're a Joy." Dameron was known for his wonderfully piquant flute arrangements, with Dodgion, Richardson, and Leo Wright doing the honors, sounding chirpy during "If You Could See Me Now," in wonderfully supple Japanese style trills during "Dial B for Beauty," in staccato bop trim for "Swift as the Wind," or in heightened dramatic, evocative romantic nuances on the classic "Fontainebleau." The other classic standards include the definitive, spirited, cohesive rock 'em sock 'em horn punctuations and the great drumming of Philly Joe Jones for "On a Misty Night," and the direct, simple, hard swinging bop of "Our Delight" charts in most every big band's repertoire. The blues infused "Just Plain Talkin'" take the flutes and alto saxophonist Dodgion to a higher atmospheric level, "Look, Stop & Listen" is a quirky bop managed in choppy horn layers, while "Bevan's Birthday" is a Latin to easy swing and back inversion, triggered by the flutes to go back to the spicy beats. This CD version features several shorter alternate takes, thus increasing the value of the original sessions, not with longer solos, but different improvisational nuances. As close to a definitive recording as Dameron issued, and considering his very small discography, The Magic Touch is a recording that all modern jazz lovers need to own and take further lessons from.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos