Vinyl Spotlight: Olio (Prestige 7084) [Original Pressing]

  • Original 1957 pressing
  • “446 W. 50th ST., N.Y.C.” on both labels
  • Deep grooves on both sides
  • “RVG” stamped in dead wax

Personnel:

  • Thad Jones, trumpet
  • Frank Wess, flute & tenor saxophone
  • Teddy Charles, vibraphone
  • Mal Waldron, piano
  • Doug Watkins, bass
  • Elvin Jones, drums

Recorded February 16, 1957 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
Originally released in 1957

It’s rare that I hang on to a record in VG condition, but this record has a couple things working for it: 1. Despite the pops and ticks, it has no groove wear, 2. I got it for (the vintage jazz record collecting equivalent of) a dollar bin price, and 3. The music and performances are both spectacular. Like my copies of Saxophone Colossus and Coltrane Live at Birdland, this was a “jazz genre section” find. Unfamiliar with the music, the price tag made me walk it over to the listening station to give it a try, and I wasn’t expecting such great performances and such a sweet sound.

For several months I grappled with the choice of keeping it or selling it, and lately I decided it’s here to stay. The compositions are all top-notch, mostly written by the tag team of Teddy Charles and Mal Waldron. The sound of the recording hearkens back to the days of lo-fi recording, drums softly set back in the mix (although the bass is maybe a little too low) and the soloists are loud and clear up front, providing a unique take on late 1950s jazz recordings. And the solos are fantastic, from “leader” Thad Jones (the leader of these Prestige “jam sessions” is never clear, save their name being first on the cover) to Charles to Waldron to the most gifted Frank Wess, who plays with a breathiness undeniably reminiscent of Lester Young. Thad Jones had a unique tone and was inventive on the level of Sonny Rollins, and Frank Wess plays with unbeatable swing (this record made me realize what I miss with the avant-garde: swing). We also get to hear a young, swinging Elvin Jones on drums, a rare occasion considering the splashy, liberated rhythmic style he would develop and own in the post bop era of the ’60s. Everyone is on point when it’s their time to shine, and though these Prestige dates often get a bad rep for lacking the care and preparation that went into sessions on labels like Blue Note, one can’t help but conclude that this group knew what they were doing when they stepped into the studio that day.

The album maintains a high quality of writing and musicianship throughout. Opening with “Potpourri”, which features Frank Wess on flute, the group then shifts to “Blues Without Woe”, an uptempo hard bop masterpiece. The first side concludes with “Touché”, a lazy summer jazz walk most exemplified by the harmony of Charles’ vibes and Wess’ flute. Side two open with “Dakar”, a Charles composition with harmonic chaos in the spirit of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence”. From there the band slows things down with a reading of the Gershwin standard “Embraceable You”. Thad Jones is his usual ballad-sweet self, and Wess plays a resonating, breathy solo. The album’s final cut, Charles’ “Hello Frisco”, ends things without exclamation, though we still get an inspired solo from Waldron, a pianist who we hear tirelessly working out ideas record after record.

At the end of the day, a cheap original pressing that plays without groove wear or skips is a record worth listening to, especially if the music and performances are as captivating as they are here.