Sonny Stitt

Producer Joel Dorn, who founded the superb revival label 32 Jazz, is giving jazz collectors two more shots of the real thing (and the rare thing) with his initial releases on Label M. From the dusty archives of Baltimore's old Left Bank Jazz Society, he's plucked a wealth of jazz performances captured in the '60s and '70s (on a home tape recorder, no less) at the Maryland city's now-defunct Famous Ballroom. More than oddities, these long-forgotten sessions are vivid reminders of the sheer passion and energy live jazz produces -- especially in its most unguarded moments.

The first of what Dorn says will be dozens of Left Bank releases features an astonishing Sonny Stitt trio set, Just the Way It Was, recorded March 21, 1971. It's an authentic cooker, featuring the late, great alto saxophonist in electrified mode. The electric saxophone, as deployed by Stitt, Chicago tenorman Eddie Harris and dozens of lesser players, was a brief vogue in the time that rock was invading jazz, and not many lament its passing. But Stitt's playing here, on a frantic "Deuces Wild," say, or a heartbreakingly beautiful "The Shadow of Your Smile," is so assured and heartfelt that the reverb and the resonance inherent in the instrument enhance his work in ways you may not expect. Certainly, this disc is a valuable reminder of a critical jazz crossroads, when the music's very identity had become clouded.

No such problem, though, for Stitt's sidemen: the absolutely dynamic but oft-forgotten B-3 organist Don Patterson, who could burn with the best of them, and frenetic drummer Billy James. This is Saturday night, get-down-with-it music at its best, and the recording quality is amazingly good. Kudos to one Vernon Walsh, who got the Wollensak rolling. Only things missing here are a pack of unfiltered Camels and a tall Scotch and soda.

The Stan Getz set, My Foolish Heart, which Walsh recorded on May 20, 1975, features a terrific rhythm section of Richie Beirach on piano, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. That's great company for tenorman Getz, whose playing here is unvarnished, unfettered and sometimes wildly exuberant, as befits a gig in a crowded Baltimore club. Getz's inspired solo work on "Spring Is Here" easily outranks his several studio recordings of the same tune, and when the exemplary Holland chases the saxophonist over the bridge of a breakneck "Lucifer's Fall," you know you're witnessing something special -- even more so because it's been plucked from the oblivion of a box in the basement. Thanks to producer Dorn for his perseverance and his good taste.


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