Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ten Essential Jazz Clarinet Recordings (3)

3. Pete Fountain * Pete Fountain's French Quarter (1961)

Pete Fountain * clarinet
Godfrey Hirsch * vibraphone
Stan Wrightsman * piano
Morty Corb * bass
Jack Sperling * drums

Pete Fountain is almost unique in the history of jazz clarinet, in that he is generally dismissed by critics for contradictory reasons. For modern jazz aficionados, he is too "traditional," too rooted in his native New Orleans. By contrast, many New Orleans traditionalists consider him too modern, tainted by West Coast and Las Vegas styles and sensibilities.

Lost among these misdirections is the eclectic brilliance of Fountain's playing, and one extremely salient point: his mastery of the clarinet. Pete is one of the few clarinetists to have forged an immediately identifiable personal style and to have extended it to the full range of the instrument, executing his ideas while seeming effortless. His technique is fluid in every register, and even his most jaw dropping feats were accomplished with emotional rather than athletic goals.

This album from 1961, long out of print, is a perfect example of the type of set his group put together in the early '60s, as documented on a slew of other albums from the same era (including Pete Fountain's New Orleans, Live at the Bateau Lounge, Pete's Place, and others). There is a blending of modern jazz sensibilities and New Orleans history that remains permanently fresh. Most of these cuts sound as though they might have been recorded last week, rather than half a century ago. The players are tight, polished and professional--all hallmarks of Pete's groups over the years. Jack Sperling is nothing short of brilliant as a drummer (is he the most underrated drummer in jazz history?) This group grooves and swings deeply throughout.

His impressive clarinet technique aside, I consider Pete Fountain to be the great crooner of jazz clarinet history. No other player has laid down melody lines to so many varied styles and lived to tell the tale. This is not so easy as it sounds--not many players can emotionally engage an audience with their sound and phrasing alone. Pete could and did for decades.

I couldn't find a track from the album on YouTube to share, but the LP is remarkable. Unfortunately, there seems no great groundswell to get these vintage recordings remastered and rereleased. If you have a turntable, I recommend getting this album on vinyl, while there are still good copies available on Amazon.


1 comment:

Seravilo said...

Amen! I agree with every word! Still have this overplayed album... is one of my handful of "desert-island records" out of a collection of over 1600!!