It’s Music Time With Eddie Sauter!

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BASIE-GREEN: High Tide. SAUTER: Superman. Three on a Match. I. JONES: It Has to be You. RODGERS-HART: My Funny Valentine. HILDINGER: Was ist los in Baden-Oos. SOLAL: Dermière Minute* / Rolf Schneebiegl, tpt; Hans Koller, cl/t-sax; Rudi Flierl, bar-sax; Adam “Adi” Feuerstein, fl; Hans Hammerschmid, *Martial Solal,  pno; unknown bs; Sperie Karas, dm (live: Baden-Baden, December 8, 1957) / HILDINGER: Kopf hoch. BASIE: Easy Does It. LANE-HARBURG: Old Devil Moon.* SAUTER: Three on a Match / Schneebiegl, Kurt Sauter, tpt; Otto Bredl, tb; Koller, t-sax; Flierl, bar-sax; Hammerschmid, pno; unknown bs & dm; *Rita Reys, voc. (live: Freiburg, January 12, 1958) / HAMMERSCHMID: Street Market. Port au Prince. LOESSER: Suddenly It’s Spring. HILDINGER: Littler Girl in a Big City.* Reeperbahn.* Spook Walk. SAUTER: Hightor / Schneebiegl, tpt; Bredl, Albert Mangelsdorff, tb; Flierl, t-sax; Willie Sanner, bar-sax; Hammerschmid, pno; Attila Zoller, gt; unknown bs & dm; *Blanche Birdsong, voc (live: Kaiserslautern, January 23, 1958) / SWR Jazzhaus JAH-460

Sometimes I think that Eddie Sauter and his lifetime of work have not only been marginalized by today’s jazz world but completely forgotten. I say this based not just on the extraordinary number of jazz musicians who are constantly reviving jazz of the past but always skipping over Sauter, but also from the even higher number of jazz arrangers who show absolutely no imagination in their scores yet constantly get praised by critics as being “innovative.”

Yet Sauter, though not the first imaginative arranger in jazz—that honor goes to three men from the 1920s, Duke Ellington, Don Redman and Bill Challis—was clearly pushing the envelope even when he worked for the quiet Red Norvo orchestra of 1936-38 but then pulled out all the stops with Benny Goodman in 1939-44, Artie Shaw in 1945 and Ray McKinley in 1946-49. Although the scores he co-wrote with arranger Bill Finegan in the early to mid 1950s were colorful, it was of course their least jazzy work that hit the pop charts, and the collapse of that band sent Sauter to Germany, his ancestral home, where he led some excellent live sessions in the late 1950s. This CD, which came out in 2016 but has only now come to my attention, is one of them.

He is working here with what is essentially a septet in the first two sessions, a nonet (with vocalist added) in the third, yet he and his guest arrangers—Dave Hildinger on My Funny Valentine and Hans Koller on Easy Does It—treat these groups as if they were full orchestras, playing the instruments against one another as if in sections, and it’s utterly amazing the sounds he gets out of them. Count Basie’s High Tide, in fact, sounds so much like a Sauter-Finegan Orchestra piece that even I was utterly amazed, with Sauter pitting the high flute and clarinet against the heaviness of the baritone and tenor saxes as he had in the early-to-mid 1950s. The solos are neat and fit into the scheme of the arrangements; I was particularly impressed by the bass solo by an unknown player. In Superman,  trumpeter Rolf Schneebigl doesn’t quite have the looseness of swing that Cootie Williams imparted on the original record, but the band plays with a quicker tempo and tighter drive than on the famous Goodman recording, and the wonderful Hans Koller plays a superb tenor sax solo.

In addition to the highly imaginative scoring—so far above most of what I hear nowadays as “innovative” that it’s astounding—there is Sauter’s incredible sense of harmonic movement. The underlying harmonies are almost always shifting, using certain notes within each chord as a “pivot point” to change them to sometimes surprisingly remote keys. This eventually became a strong influence on the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman band arrangers, not to mention certain musicians who worked in the 1950s as well, but it is certain that no one ever did this as well as Eddie Sauter did. He was, quite simply, a genius.

And yes, one can tell the difference between Sauter and Hildinger in My Funny Valentine. It’s a good arrangement, to be sure, but not one in which the harmony shifts under the soloist’s feet like quicksand. Ironically, it was these astonishing harmonic shifts that Benny Goodman disliked the most in Sauter’s scores, which is why he recorded a great many of them but played only a few in his live performances and broadcasts of the time. You can immediately tell the difference between the Hildinger arrangement of Valentine and Sauter’s arrangement of Hildinger’s composition Was ist los in Baden-Oos; though he keeps the harmonic shifts to a minimum here, they are still present, and the instrumental voicing is pure Sauter, such as the flute-trumpet chorus around the 4:50 mark. We also get a nice chase chorus here between the tenor and baritone saxes that adds to the fun. On the last number in this set, the great Martial Solal sat in to play one of his own compositions, again arranged by Sauter. It sounds like a contrafact on Sweet Georgia Brown.

In the second session, Sauter had two trumpets, the other being his son Kurt, and once again his use of the baritone sax to anchor the sound—something he borrowed from Sy Oliver—denotes one of his signature sounds. And there is something else that needs to be pointed out. Unlike so many jazz recordings I review nowadays, even the very good ones, Sauter’s bands here sound as if they’re having a ball playing this music. The joie-de-vivre is infectious. Koller’s arrangement of Basie’s Easy Does It is very good in its own way, using the short riff that makes up the melody in overlapping canon form, and includes very fine solos by Hammerschmid on piano and our two trumpeters. One Rita Reys, who sings the vocal on Old Devil Moon, isn’t great but isn’t bad, either. In this set, I was particularly impressed by Sauter’s Three on a Match: the voicing is imaginative but uncomplicated, and it almost sounds like Jimmy Giuffre’s Four Brothers, except with more interjections from the trumpets.

The more you hear the various tracks on this set, the more you notice. Both Sauter as an arranger and the band in general has a lot of fun playing Hans Hammerschmid’s Street Market,  but as soon as you hit Sauter’s arrangement of Suddenly It’s Spring you might as well be in a different world, sound-wise. On Little Girl in a Big City and Reeperbahn, Sauter uses vocalist Blanche Birdsong as a wordless instrumental soloist, as he did with other female singers in the Sauter-Finegan band. This may strike some listeners as the most dated aspect of these performers, but I don’t mind it so much.

There’s no getting around it. After spending nearly 75 minutes in Eddie Sauter’s sound world, you gain a lot of respect for his musical ingenuity. Once in a while you get the feeling that some things are done for effect only, as the xylophone doubling the horns in Hightor, but these slight indiscretions do not erase the memory of some of the most colorful and imaginative jazz arrangements you’ll ever have the delight of hearing.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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