Sonny Stitt & His Electric Saxophone / Stan Getz

Legendary jazz producer Joel Dorn in recent years has become quite the detective. After resurrecting many long-lost albums for the CD age at 32 Jazz and then moving on to Label M, he reached a personal goal of acquiring the rights to the live recordings of the Left Bank Jazz Society. Formed by a group of Baltimore jazz lovers in 1964, the Left Bank presented weekly concerts in the '60s and '70s, attracting some of the biggest names and recording informally on a reel-to-reel recorder. Since then the recordings had sat dormant, but Dorn recently struck a deal with all parties, cleaned up the tapes and plans to release dozens of never-before-heard recordings over the next three years in the "Live" at the Left Bank series. He starts with these two sax machines.

Just the Way It Was is the superior of the two because it provides something new and interesting even to the die-hard Stitt fan. It was recorded in 1971 at the tail end of the brief period in which he used the electric Varitone sax. Though it gave the alto/tenor man a rougher, less organic sound and was not uniformly favored, it nonetheless shows the man formerly dismissed as a Bird knockoff experimenting. The sound also exists as a wonderful time capsule of the era's musical style. Backed by Billy James (drums) and the under-rated Don Patterson (organ), it kicks off with the freewheelin', tight "Deuces Wild," providing some great Stitt/Patterson interplay. Indeed, the latter's wonderfully funkified organ is so present throughout the record, he practically deserves co-billing. "Cry Me a River" shows Stitt's subtle mastery, but it's on the epic "John Brown's Body" and the up-tempo "Blues Up and Down" that this CD really cooks. The trio not only meshes together best on these tracks -- Stitt's sax often swooping up and down over the more anchored organ and drums, then taking both into sonic pockets -- but there's plenty of space for one-upmanship with all that teamwork. Still, the record is not mistake-free -- "Samba de Orpheus" veers into cruise-ship band material, and "The Shadow of Your Smile," while playing it safe for the most part, does build to a crescendo that ends too soon. Overall, it's an exciting record worth repeated plays.

Tenor man Stan Getz, or "The Sound," not only was one of jazz's most popular saxophonists, but he prided himself on tackling a wide variety of styles: big band, Dixie, bop, fusion and even bossa nova, which he's credited with popularizing worldwide. But on My Foolish Heart, he sticks mainly to the smooth, light tones of cool jazz with a combo that includes Richie Beirach (piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) in this 1975 date. You can practically feel the West Coast sun warming the skin on the smooth grooves of "Invitation" and "Untitled" -- the latter so named because Dorn and his historians could not find the title of the tune (the liner notes present a contest for an answer). "Litha" shows the quartet's best cohesive playing, but "Spring Is Here" and "Lucifer's Fall" seem too light and lilting for interest. It's on the last two tracks that Getz clearly -- and solidly -- delineates the two prominent sides to his playing. "My Foolish Heart" is achingly beautiful, the perfect soundtrack to any guy-who-just-got-dumped movie montage, and the danceable, nearly rocking "Fiesta" brings in Latin flavor, with DeJohnette's kit and hi-hat working overtime over Getz's spicy honking. My Foolish Heart, then, is a good starter sampler of Getz, although his prime work remains on other records.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero