Monday, January 14, 2013

Art Tatum – The Tatum Group Masterpieces – Vol. 1

   One of greatest jazz pianist ever, influential innovator and sensational virtuoso, Art Tatum was one of legendary figures of jazz scene in 1940’s and beyond. Building his awesome technique on basis of stride piano style, he created the bridge between traditional jazz piano and new expressive means with elements of romantic piano tradition and frequent reharmonizations of standard structures. But it is meaningful he has not accept the be-bop style. His style was very traditional in musical means and too much schematic in structures. Also expanded ornaments were contradictory to modern economy of expression. In critical reception he was playing too much notes and his ornamental output was even seen as ‘unjazzlike’. Died in 1956 in the age of 47, he was the one who has been copied and referenced by numerous masters of jazz piano in next decades. His artistic descendants are so many it is futile to mention all of them.
   Art Tatum was best exhibited in solo performances. Interviewed in 1949 Tatum said the band hampers him. But still along with his numerous solo recordings he made series of recordings in various lineups. In 1975 Pablo Records published series of eight LPs under the title The Tatum Group Masterpieces. Every volume was also published as separate album. Volume 1 produced by Norman Grunz was recorded June 25, 1954 in Los Angeles. Tatum played in trio with Benny Carter on alto saxophone and Louis Bellson on drums. Seven pieces show the trio from typical Tatum’s perspective. Only two pieces, opening both sides Blues in C and Blues in B flat are original Tatum, Carter and Bellson compositions. Other two are Gershwin’s tunes A Foggy Day and S’Wonderful, making the program one more frame of American songbook.

The Tatum Group Masterpieces – Vol. 1(1975)

   In 1954, when the session took place, Art Tatum was one of most prominent personas in American music. For many musicians the mere fact of participation in his band was a major achievement. But the same one can say about Benny Carter who was one of most popular musicians originating from traditional, before the war jazz style and extremely popular in swing era. He was known as instrumentalist, band leader, composer and arranger and his fame was as huge as he was called The King. In Art Tatum Group he played alto saxophone although he is better known as trumpeter and clarinetist. Also Louis Bellson was an artist strongly connected with swing style and number one drummer in the era of first long playing records. He played with all best artists of mainstream jazz including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton and Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic famous concerts.

Art Tatum – Blues in B Flat (1954)

   In the history of jazz styles changed frequently and none reigned undivided. Some were just part of popular and dance music, some were tended to more serious artistic aims. In the bop era most of the musicians were playing in a post-swing style and many of them not tended to take part in avant-garde revolution. And their audience was still significantly larger. Art Tatum and his group played most advanced, although still mainstream jazz. Solos in dancelike Undecided are full of swing inspirations along with clever rhythmic and harmonic alterations. Art Tatum is active and brisk, switching immediately to and fro between accompanying and leading soloing.
   Benny Carter plays with great culture and facility. His solo in Under a Blanket of Blue sounds like he was tired of swinging syncopating thus played with ballade style with some manner of cool distance. Without full acceptance of be-bop patterns, this kind of soloing had to be very uncomfortable so Carter and Tatum turned to the blues and heavy use of pentatonic scale. This is predominantly the idea of whole set of recordings of the album. And most clearly it is displayed in two blues themes credited to Tatum, Carter and Bellson, each placed at the beginning of the side. Closing program with two Gershwin songs and Street of Dreams by Young and Lewis musicians are focused on swing era style and executed this attitude with the best artistic quality one can get.

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