My impressions of Quincy Jones stem from a 1970s jazz LP I bought way back then. A little pop, a little electronic. I liked a few songs but it wasn’t really my cup of jazz tea, especially now. But I knew that he had been producing music for some time, so when I found Plays Hip Hits for a buck, what the heck…let’s see what Mr. Jones’s earlier work sounds likes. Well, I’m glad I took a chance, because I really enjoyed this stereo LP (Mercury SR 60799, 1963).
Right off, Jones’ big band is playing the well-known songs of the day and that was part of the attraction. And despite the beat up condition of the vinyl, the recording quality still came through. Hey, they used some great mics on the date, including Telefunken U-47s and AKG D-24 and 25s, among others. The band? Christ, it reads like a who’s who. Lalo Schifrin and Patti Bown are on piano. Ed Shaughnessy (The Johnny Carson Tonight Show Band) on drums, Clark Terry and Snooky Young on trumpet, Zoot Sims, Roland Kirk (!) James Moody and Al Cohn on sax, just to name some of the members. The band includes french horns, tubas and a harmonica, too.
So the mics and band are top notch. How about the tunes? I can’t say I liked every song, but five outta 10 ain’t bad, especially for one. As in one dollar. No, this isn’t the tough, hardcore jazz of the east coasters, like Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane. Nor is it the west coast jazz of Chet Baker or Gerry Mulligan. It’s a bit of a jazz big band that ‘s playing pop hits, with a bit of pop mixed into the arrangements. So it isn’t Count Basie, either.
Jones takes on a rather diverse set of songs, from Paul Desmond’s Take Five to Nat Adderly’s Jive Samba. Exodus is here and you’ve likely heard the famous version by Eddie Harris. This could be a collection of pop songs gone silly, but it’s really got a cool flavor that says late big band mixed in with a 1960s stew, stir while your feet are tapping and serve to your friends. Jones’ band is very tight and very easy to listen to.
The melodies of the songs are quite evident, so if you know the tune, you’ll recognize it pretty fast. Not a lot of melodic deconstruction here, and I doubt Jones had any intention of doing so. He wanted you to know and like the tunes. Take Five is immediately apparent, with Altos Phil Woods and Zoot Sims providing the backbone of the melody. Then they do a little back and forth that breaks up the song in a compelling way. Jim Hall is listed as one of the guitarists on this date, and it does sound like him in the background, although it could also be Kenny Burrell.
I recently heard the Eddie Harris version of Exodus; man, what a great tune! Jones does it justice here, although he doesn’t really break new ground with it. In fact, much of the LP is that way. If you like the original version, you’ll probably like Jones’ version. Zoot Sims is again featured, followed by the rest of the band briefly blaring away. I do rather like the way Jones arranges his horn section.
The LP opens with a funky tune called Comin’ Home Baby, which sounded familiar but I can’t recall who else does this. From the opening bass notes, it grabbed me. Jones’ keeps feeding you the melody line with Joe Newman’s ragged trumpet; dark, soulful notes by guitarist Jim Hall and Bobby Scott’s organ. The song keeps building and doesn’t really take you to much of a chorus or bridge, but it didn’t matter to me. I liked it that way.
OK, I admit the whole LP didn’t do it for me. But the tunes I liked make the LP worth seeking out if you’re into big bands playing a more pop style that fits into a 60s soul vibe, especially if you can find it cheap. You might also check out Mosaic Records, they have a multi CD set of Jones’ work on the Mercury label, although it mostly predates this LP by a few years.
Got one minute and 28 seconds? Take a listen to a medley of four tunes from the original LP! My LP, as usual, is kinda beat up, so don’t be surprised if it sounds worn and grainy, especially when those horns are blaring…