First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2005, Volume 12, #9
Written by John Metzger
Gerry Mulligan first came to the world’s attention as a member of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool band, but it wasn’t until he stepped out on his own that his talent for playing the baritone sax was acknowledged more widely. In 1952, he formed a quartet with trumpeter Chet Baker and made the innovative decision to tour and record without a pianist. Not only was this approach a rather unique one, but it also proved be a tremendously successful enterprise — both creatively and commercially — so much so that the "pianoless" format became Mulligan’s signature statement. For this very reason, his 1962 effort Jeru is a distinct anomaly within his canon.
Its genesis is thus: At the time, Mulligan worked, by his own design, only seven months of each year, meaning there was a lengthy hiatus during which his collaborators could pursue other projects. It was during one of these breaks that his longtime drummer Dave Bailey (along with Gary Gladstone and Fred Norsworthy) founded Jazzline Records. Since Mulligan was temporarily without a contract, he called his friend and offered to utilize a standard rhythm section in order to record an album for his new label. The catch was that Bailey needed to persuade pianist Tommy Flanagan to participate. He did, and it was within a single, 4 ½ hour session held in June 1962 that Mulligan, Flanagan, and Bailey along with conga player Alec Dorsey and bass player Ben Tucker captured the seven tracks featured on Jeru.
Given the unit had been pieced together specifically for the purpose of recording a single album, it’s not surprising that the ensemble’s chemistry was underdeveloped. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean the musicians were without a genuine rapport. In fact, the collective proved to be remarkably tight-knit. Even if Jeru wasn’t filled with adventurous material, it did exude a warm, intimate air that was quite captivating. Supported by the understated rhythmic currents of drums and congas as well as a steady rumble of bass, Mulligan and Flanagan playfully interacted on each of the selections, and in the process, the band adorned its suite of songs — from the bossa nova breeziness of Capricious to the gentle swing of Inside Impromptu to the bubbly You’ve Come Home — with an aura of joyful elegance. Indeed, in the group’s hands, even the ballad Lonely Town eschews its melancholy intonations in favor of a more optimistic ambience. In other words, Jeru is a delightful endeavor, albeit one which is so professionally crafted and unassuming that it’s easy to miss the many subtle nuances that lie beneath its surface. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box