NORWEGIAN RADIO / COOTS-LEWIS: For All We Know. J. HODGES: Someday. UNKNOWN: How Long / Ben Webster, t-sax; Jack Reilly, pn; Sture Jonson, bs; Trygve Windingstad, dm / REILLY: Suffering. Death. Resurrection. Floral Space. YOUNG-WASHINGTON: Stella By Starlight / Jack Reilly Trio: Reilly, pn; Jack Six, bs; Joe Cocuzzo, dm; add Lew Gluckin, Fl-hn on last track / Unichrom 0019, available from the artist at a special price of $18.99 (European customers please add $4 USD for postage). Make checks payable to Jack Reilly & mail to 78 Nautilus St., Beachwood, NJ USA 08722-2645
Here’s a true rarity: an album of never-before-released material, including three tracks with a bona-fide jazz legend, issued in a limited edition by the artist himself. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime collector’s items that will undoubtedly be selling on eBay for $100 or more in the not-too-distant future, thus I recommend your acquiring it ASAP.
For those who are unaware of him, Jack Reilly is one of the finest jazz pianists to emerge in the 1950s, alongside of Bill Evans and Horace Silver. Stylistically closer to the former than the latter, he has worked in a variety of jazz venues over the years and also plied his hand as a jazz educator and author (Species Blues, The Harmony of Bill Evans, The Harmony of Dave Brubeck) as well as a classical composer (the La-No-Tib Suite and Orbits, among others). But he has had extremely bad luck in attracting commercial labels to record him. To the best of my knowledge, his only commercial date was a quartet session with clarinetist-alto saxist John LaPorta on Everest Records in 1958 titled The Most Minor.
The first three tracks here were broadcast by Norwegian radio in 1971. Happily, they’re very professionally recorded by Norwegian radio engineers (always among the best in their day) and, better yet, Webster is in prime form. The attentive listener will note, even in the opening track, how much more his improvisations were formulated by harmonic movement in this phase of his career. He plays the melody at the beginning and end but not entirely straight, bending notes and exploring a few “outside” notes. Of course, this may have been encouraged by his working with Reilly, who has always been among the most harmonically advanced of jazz pianists. Jimmy Hodges’ classic tune Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You) is taken at a surprisingly fast clip and, the way Webster plays the tune at the opening, might almost be confused for the old 1926 song Sunday (a favorite with Chicago jazz bands into the 1950s). Reilly is particularly swinging here, keeping to the basic chord structure in his two choruses, possibly so as not to throw off his older colleague (though Webster survived the bop era, he was never a participant, unlike his famous colleague Coleman Hawkins). The Norwegian rhythm section is beautifully swinging as well as relaxed, particularly drummer Windingstad whose smooth, gliding style puts you in mind of such subtle percussionists as Dave Tough or Jo Jones. Despite the very clear sound, there is an unfortunate amount of radio static that pops up here and there (most audibly at the end of Someday). Both Webster and Reilly play rather sparingly on How Long, making every note and even the rests count. This is what I consider great slow jazz to be: not some soporific to numb the listener out, but beautifully crafted music that tells a story.
The remainder of the album consists of brief recording studio sessions made (Jack thinks) at Jerry Newman’s A&R studios. Suffering is but a brief prelude, almost classical in structure, leading to a surprisingly jolly waltz tune which he calls Death (albeit one with a strange central theme or interlude). I’m so used to hearing Reilly write and play very complex pieces that this almost sounds Vince Guaraldi-ish, although he does insert some interesting chord changes that might not have occurred to Guaraldi. The piece ends on an unresolved chord. Resurrection is a swinging tune; apparently Jack thinks of rebirth as a party! Yet it is here, particularly in the middle improv, where he tosses in more complex chords. The superb bassist Jack Six takes a splendid solo that fits right in with Reilly’s concept, backed sensitively by Cocuzzo on drums. The latter’s breaks nicely complement Reilly’s sparse chorus, after which the pianist rides it out.
Floral Space is the most interesting of all as Reilly works his way through the opening chorus, alluding to a melody but only occasionally playing bits of it. Reilly continues to work the tune through extra choruses, building on what had come before and expanding it both melodically and harmonically. This is a real masterpiece!
Victor Young’s Stella By Starlight returns us to a swinging groove, featuring Flugelhorn player Lew Gluckin. Gluckin’s solo is quite fine but Reilly’s is even better, becoming quite Tristano-ish in places. He alternates single-note measures with chorded passages, and Six feeds him nicely—but then the tune suddenly stops. Evidently an incomplete take.
Despite its brevity (only 35 minutes of music), this is a fascinating slice of history, first in making a rare Ben Webster session available and second in presenting us with new compositions by Reilly himself. Well worth acquiring!
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
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