Larry Young, In Paris: The ORTF Recordings
A two-disc set (available on CDs and LPs), it documents the innovation already underway, with Young more upfront, his solos more elaborate and daring, than the future Blue Notes, which gave more prominence to his sidemen (granted, they were quite the sidemen: Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers, Hank Mobley, Woody Shaw, among others).
Shaw plays a major role in these Paris sessions too, but more as an equal collaborator, he and Young (only four years his senior) having grown up together in Newark. As the album's extremely informative booklet recounts, Shaw had come to Paris in 1964 to join Eric Dolphy's band. When Dolphy died of diabetic shock, Shaw stuck around, playing trumpet with Nathan Davis, a Kansas City tenor saxophonist who'd resettled in France. Just 20 years old and homesick, he persuaded Davis to bring over Young and their drummer friend, Billy Brooks. It's this resulting quartet that went into the studios of Radio-Television France and cut most of the tracks on Disc 1. (Disc 2 consists of two live performances at the French Academy of Jazz, also just recently discovered.)
Young was the first musician who took the Hammond B-3 off the soul-groove circuit and took it in a modal direction, influenced by John Coltrane, and, while there's still a soulful punch, there's also a spry freedom in his playingjagged and jubilantunlike anything he did before or since. And Woody Shaw, maybe teed up by the reunion, blows with an ecstatic drive and a blistering post-bop virtuosity that ranks among his finest hoursand he laid down dozens of very fine hours. (His Mosaic boxed setsone of them out of print and hard to findare a good place to do deep-binge exploring, though I'm also a particular fan of his work on Mal Waldron's underrated Seagulls of Kristiansund).
The 10 tracks on the ORTF recordings comprise a mix of originals by Young, Shaw, Davis, and a couple of their French collaborators, as well as a 14-minute excursion through Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile," which I would single out as the album's peak, except I think it's topped by the 20-minute firestorm on Shaw's "Zoltan" (better than the version on Young's Unity, his most celebrated Blue Note album, recorded later that year). Both are among the live tracks on Disc 2.
Another cause for wonderment: the sound quality on these discs is extraordinarily fine: the horns dynamic and vibrant, the drum kit crackling, the B3 billowing with air. The LPs, mastered from high-rez digital files by Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI, heaves more space around the horns; the CDs catch a bit more slam from the drum kit.
Young and Shaw were both tragic figures. Young died in 1978, at age 38, of unknown causes, after being hospitalized with stomach pains. Shaw died in 1989, at age 44, of kidney failure. This album unearths what may be their greatest work. Buy it.