There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
“Cool” doesn’t seem like it would be synonymous with a rail-thin, baritone saxophonist who had a brush cut more severe than Gomer Pyle’s. But it was Gerry Mulligan and his quartet of 1952-53 that put the cool sounds of West Coast jazz on the map. Mulligan’s decision to forgo a piano—whether conscious or because the club his group played didn’t have a decent keyboard—and arrange for three monophonic instruments and percussion was revolutionary. His charts took advantage of the space provided by the absence of a chording instrument to spotlight his and trumpeter Chet Baker’s telepathically intertwined counterpoint. Baker’s middle-register lyricism mixed beautifully with Mulligan’s soft baritones, and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. “The Original Sessions” (43 tracks including a few alternate takes on Discs 1 and 2), feature the tracks from the ’52-’53 quartet that made the duo famous. Cuts like “Bernie’s Tune,” “Jeru,” and “My Funny Valentine” are luminous, low-key affairs and must have immediately stood out against the rapid-fire energy of bebop that then dominated the jazz world. “The Reunion” (16 tracks, Disc 3) features Baker and Mulligan’s 1957 reconciliation, and the results are markedly different from those of their initial meeting. By ’57, both had become major stars, and where their previous outings had been characterized by equal attention to the compositions, arrangements, and solos, their reunion recordings are looser affairs, with the two stars engaging in spirited cutting sessions. On the fourth disc, “The Collaborations,” the quartet is joined by alto saxophonist Lee Konitz for 12 tracks of serpentine, three-horn interplay, and the normally extroverted vocalist Annie Ross calms down for 10 tracks of quintessential, cool school grooving. With excellent liner notes by Ted Giota and specially packaged like a miniature book, this collection is essential.