The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam was a stop for quite a few notable jazz musicians during the 1950s and '60s, and for the past few years the Dutch Jazz Archive has released a concert from their archive at the rate of one per year. Judging by what has been released, it seems that many of these musicians did their best work here. Many of them were at the peak of their careers, and European audiences were always eager and enthusiastic for American jazz. The Concertgebouw releases are a significant series of live recordings due to the quality of the musicianship and the excellent sound.
Gerry Mulligan was one of the leaders of the 1950s' West Coast scene as both a player and arranger. Both are on display in this Concertgebouw outing from the fifties; the baritone saxophonist brought an all-star line-up from the States to show off the kind of coolly swinging jazz that only an eager bunch of Californians could offer. In 1956, when the concert was held, Mulligan and his colleagues were turning in terrific recording after terrific recording for the Contemporary and Pacific labels and thus were caught in their prime here.
Mulligan tended to favor either smaller quartets or big bands, so these sextet recordings are a fortunate discovery. The front line represents a scaled down version of a big band, in which each member represents an entire section: Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Jon Eardley on trumpet, Bob Brookmeyer on trombone and Mulligan on baritone saxophone. Bill Crow on bass and Dave Bailey on drums round out the rhythm section; in typical Mulligan fashion, there is no piano to anchor the front line (except on the rare occasions when he tickles the ivories himself.) This gives the arrangements a lot of breathing room and the tightly interwoven front line on "Mud Bug" and "Demanton" provide such depth and richness that the keys aren't missed.
The music is loose, playful and energetic—between numbers the band engages in some light banter. A couple of numbers make the evening (and the recording) even more special—a quartet reading of "Line For Lyons" with Eardley taking the place of Chet Baker, who played trumpet on the most famous version of the song, and "My Funny Valentine," which begins with just Mulligan and Brookmeyer before the other two horns join in.
The audience was enthusiastic throughout and deservedly so—this was an excellent show. The sound quality is pristine, the players are in top form and the end result is one of the best examples of live West Coast jazz available, proving that the warm climate of the Pacific wasn't an essential ingredient to what these fellows were cooking.