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NEW DIRECTIONS (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1927-2) [1951/52/53]

THE PRESTIGE JAZZ QUARTET (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-1937-2) [1957]

This review is essentially a follow-up and addendum to my first review of Teddy Charles’ albums. 

NEW DIRECTIONS collects three 10-inch Prestige albums, the 1951 TEDDY CHARLES TRIO (PRLP-132) and the two NEW DIRECTIONS albums released in 1952 (PRLP-143) and 1953 (PRLP-150). As such, this CD overlaps COLLABORATION WEST (Prestige/Original Jazz Classics OJCCD-122-2), which includes the 1952 NEW DIRECTIONS album. But I’m glad to see it here, in this context, because it’s a vital step in Charles’ musical evolution.


The first eight tracks on the CD are from the 1951 album; the other two albums each contributed four tracks. They were short albums: the total time on this CD is only 54:58, or almost 55 minutes.   The TRIO album was the longest of the three – and is the least adventurous of the lot, making use of standards like “OlMan River,” “Tenderly,” “Basin Street Blues” and “The Lady Is A Tramp.” It was Charles’ first album, working with a guitarist (Don Roberts) and a bassist (Kenny O’Brien), and it sounds like intelligent lounge music. The back cover notes credit these tracks with “an adventurousness that was rare in 1951,” but I guess the (anonymous) author was unfamiliar with the genuinely adventurous jazz being recorded in that era.   There are indeed some nice bits scattered through these tracks, but the Teddy Charles Trio was basically a copy of the Red Norvo Trio (with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus) and playing a similar repertoire.  

The first NEW DIRECTIONS album, with a quartet, was a radical step forward for Charles. As I said in my original review, “This quartet, with Charles on vibes, Jimmy Raney on guitar, Dick Nivison on bass, and Ed Shaughnessy – the same Ed Shaughnessy who was in the Johnny Carson Tonight Show Band for so many years – on drums, cut only four tracks, but the title of one of them, ‘Edging Out,’ tells the whole story. This was jazz on the edge in 1952. Polytonal if not atonal at times, it built on the experiments of the late forties by Lennie Tristano, Gil Evans and others. Highly improvisational, but far from self-indulgent, this was music being made by men who had no charts for the course upon which they were embarking, but who set high standards for themselves. The guitar-vibes combination made for shimmering textures, and these were combined with feverish rhythms to produce in ‘A Night In Tunisia’ (a Dizzy Gillespie classic) a powerful, churning caldron of intensity.”   (I found this LP in a Times Square record store in 1955 and brought it home to play it over and over while I tried to stretch my young mind around it.)

The second NEW DIRECTIONS album was made by a trio which consisted of Charles, Ed Shaughnessy on drums and Hall Overton on piano. Overton is credited with all four of the pieces performed by this trio, although in his original liner notes (reprinted here) Ira Gitler says of Overton, “three of the structures are his, ‘Metalizing’ is Teddy’s.” Overton was Charles’ teacher in composition and theory, and an occasional collaborator in his recordings (he was in the quartet which recorded half of WORD FROM BIRD).   His pieces here are “serious” and “decidedly avant-garde” (to quote the back cover notes again). As such they are more intellectual and challenging musically than the pieces which preceded them on this CD.

Thus this CD presents the documented evolution of Teddy Charles from playing supper-club standards to cerebral atonality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I like best the mid-period represented by the first NEW DIRECTIONS album – neither too polite nor too abstract, but challenging and emotionally rewarding. However, the entire CD is a strong musical statement and one well worth hearing.

Although I don’t have them, there were additional New Directions 10-inch LPs from Prestige.   They were NEW DIRECTIONS Vol. 3 (PRLP-164), Vol. 4 (PRLP-169), and Vol. 5 (PRLP-178), as well as NEW DIRECTIONS QUARTET (PRLP-206), a reissue of the New Jazz 10-incher of the same name (NJLP-1106).   Vol.5 was incorporated in THE DUAL ROLE OF BOB BROOKMEYER (OJCCD-1729-2), while Vol. 4 was reissued as COLLABORATION WEST and Vol. 3 and the New Jazz LP were reissued as EVOLUTION (both covered in my first review).

HE PRESTIGE JAZZ QUARTET was, as noted in my earlier review (of TEO, the album the PJQ made with Teo Macero), a quartet built around Charles and pianist Mal Waldron with Addison Farmer (trumpeter Art Farmer’s brother) on bass and Jerry Segal on drums. Mal was “hot” in those days. He had played with Mingus’s Jazz Workshop and was Billie Holiday’s accompanist in her last days. He was a strong performer and an original composer (whose contribution to Charles’ TENTET album was a major one).

But neither Mal nor Teddy really pulled out the stops in the PJQ. Perhaps overly impressed by the Modern Jazz Quartet, and perhaps prodded by Prestige Records to emulate the MJQ, the PJQ was a bit too polite. There was none of the feverishness of the New Direction Quartet, and none of its experimentation. Instead the performances – even of extended compositions like Charles’ “Take Three Parts Jazz” (which runs over 14 minutes) – is best described as “mellow.”   Waldron contributes two pieces, “Meta-Waltz” and “Dear Elaine,” and the album is closed out by Charles’ version of Thelonious Monk’s “Friday the 13th.” This is mature jazz and not really very far removed from the quartet performances on WORD FROM BIRD, albeit these are compositions rather than the products of an extemporaneous blowing session.

I suspect Prestige had in mind to use the PJQ in a variety of settings – including quite likely an album of Broadway show tunes – but for some reason this did not happen.   Only this and the TEO album were released. Teddy Charles moved on – to the Elektra label for VIBE-RANT, Jubilee for THREE FOR DUKE (both released in 1957) and then on to Bethlehem for a stint in 1958.

Like the EVOLUTION CD, these two CDs are part of Fantasy’s Original Jazz Classics “Limited Edition Series.”   That means they will have a limited availability and if you’re interested in them you’d best get them fairly soon.   (They were released late in 2000.)


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