Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Two of a Mind - Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan

Two of a Mind
Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan
RCA LPM-2624

I picked this up in Yreka which is a small town off Interstate 5 near the Oregon/California border.  We often stop there on our way to Oregon to have lunch.  It has a small historic downtown that dates back to when the town was a gold rush boomtown.  I was wandering around there after lunch a couple of years ago and went into a thrift store and checked out the vinyl.  I wasn't expecting to find much, maybe some vintage country records but instead I found this.  I'm a big fan of Gerry Mulligan and buy anything he's on.  Desmond I like okay but I don't go out of my way to hear him.  I think Mulligan performs best when he is partnered with someone who will push him a little, like Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk.  Desmond's approach is too similar to Mulligan's classic style, if they weren't playing different horns I'd hardly be able to tell them apart at times.  They complement each other very well, but the results are more entertaining than challenging, but what the heck sometimes you just want to have fun.  The two men are backed up by bassists and drummers, but as with Mulligan's classic quartet with Chet Baker there is no piano.   The album opens with "All The Things You Are."  Desmond and Mulligan introduce the song trading lines until Desmond takes a lengthy swinging solo which is followed by Mulligan's solo which seems tentative at first but picks up steam as he goes along.  The song concludes with the two playing contrapuntal lines bringing the song to an energetic finish.  There must be a thousand jazz interpretations of "Stardust" around and Desmond and Mulligan's take on the song isn't particularly interesting although it is lovely and Mulligan's solo is romantic and full of feeling.  Desmond's solo is fluid but sounds cold and technical by comparison.  Once again the two men join in to play contrapuntally at the conclusion of the song.  Desmond composed "Two of a Mind" which concludes side one.  It is an uptempo, driving tune with some spirited playing from both men.  It gets me bopping and is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  Mulligan composed "Blight of the Fumble Bee" which according to the liner notes was named by Mulligan's girlfriend, the actress Judy Holliday, after hearing a playback in the control room.  It is classic Mulligan as he takes a simple riff and expounds on it in a thrilling solo.  Desmond's solo sounds more like empty virtuosity to me, it swings but it lacks Mulligan's manic drive and intensity.  The frenetic contrapuntal playing that concludes the song features a riff on "Flight of the Bumble Bee" which presumably inspired the song's odd title.  My favorite cut on the record is "The Way You Look Tonight" which is dynamic and exciting with some terrific contrapuntal passages.  At the end of the song, Desmond overdubs a third saxophone line creating a dense and vibrant be-bop sound that really sends me.   Mulligan's solo is smoking hot as well.  "Out of Nowhere" is also a swinging tune with another powerful Mulligan solo.  The kinetic contrapuntal playing at the end of the song would give the album a strong finish except that the song abruptly shifts at the finish into a brief slow jam that is crudely faded out, almost as if they were starting a new song and then changed their minds.  The tight arrangements and contrapuntal playing are typical of Mulligan's style so his fans should really enjoy this record.  People who are accustomed to hearing the cool cerebral jazz Desmond played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet may be surprised to hear how effectively he can blow hot when the opportunity arises.  Recommended to fans of Mulligan's quartet with Chet Baker.

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