Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Talkin' Verve (1997)

Dig? Alongside the individual artist sets, the Talkin' Verve series involved a bunch of various artist comps. The idea, no doubt, was to entice clubbers and other kids into exploring the Verve catalog with themed discs, exploring aesthetics that hooked into then-contemporary trends. Thus there were discs aimed at the Lounge puppies, the Swing-Revival mayflies, the Latin renaissance, etc.

Like most things Verve does, at first glance this looks like a nice idea, at second glance it seems a little overcooked by marketing, and then at third glance it turns out to be a surprisingly solid project. The third-glance aspect of this is that each of these themed discs actually seems to be trying to educate the (hypothetical) listener about a particular aspect of the jazz aesthetic. Like, sincerely.

This one is addressing itself to the concept of Cool. And so the liner notes, by Larry Kart, very seriously (not to say academically) try to orient the reader to what cool means in a jazz context, how it ties in with existentialist instincts and ego-problems, love and loss - not bad for two scant pages. He writes:
I once knew a young woman whose finest wish was to be secretly filmed as she went about her daily routine, then to be allowed to rerun endlessly the resulting footage: "The Story of You", starring...who else? This is the grandiose side of Cool's dream. More or less alone in the world - with the connections broken, invisible, or failing to work - it just might be that it does all radiate outward from you, as you walk the rain-soaked streets of a deserted city in the stage set of your mind.

The music is impeccable, each one an overspilling bucket drawn from the deep chill waters of the jazz well. And a lot of the tracks are rare - not just in the sense of things that hadn't (at this point) been issued yet on CD, but also the kind of thing you still wouldn't run across very easily. A fantastic tenor duet (i.e., just them, no rhythm section) between Al Cohn and Zoot Sims called "Improvisation for Unaccompanied Saxophones." A great piece by Stan Getz's mid-bossa-nova flirtation with a vibraphone quartet with Gary Burton, "6-Nix-Quix-Flix" (known in live versions issued at the time, but here's the studio rendition).

And, my favorite moments, two big-band pieces from my favorite arrangers. Oliver Nelson gives us a magnificently moody take on "St. Louis Blues," which moves from abstract contemplation of the truths of Handy's theme to a supremely angsty trumpet-rhythm-section jam. And Gil Evans contributes a veritable fantasia on Willie Dixon's "Spoonful."

It's a disc worth seeking out, if you're at all open to anthologies; I'm still at the stage in my jazz larnin' that I find them useful.

The only criticism I have about it is that in order to construct this vision (for example, in order to include the de rigeur Coltrane and Miles cuts), Verve had to resort to their holdings in the erstwhile Mercury and Fontana catalogs. Lately I've become quite interested in understanding the character of Verve as a label, and so I have to mentally dismiss the Mercury tracks here (however excellent they are in their own right) as belonging to a different story.

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