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Zoot Sims - Compatibility

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Artist: Zoot Sims

Album: Compatibility

Label: Delmark

Review date: May. 28, 2013

Chicago’s Delmark imprint maintains a stellar track record of rescuing forgotten music from oblivion. The varied output of easily a dozen long-defunct regional labels comprises its deep reissue catalog. The latest acquisition to that number is the tiny Jump label and the first release is the complete output of a 1955 session by obscure California-based trumpeter Hall Daniels that was originally released in truncated 10" form. Saxophonist Zoot Sims, a far more recognizable name in jazz circles, understandably gets top billing on the reissue, which adds as many as three alternate takes of each of the session’s original four tunes. Daniels’ role as leader is evident in composing and arranging duties, which make cogent use of each of the men and use the disc’s title as operating credo.

Sims’ longevity and popularity resulted in dozens of dates spanning the ensuing several decades. That sustained activity created something of surfeit of his crushed velvet sound on record that suggests (at least initially) a certain superfluousness to this reissue. The music is very much rooted in the modern unruffled swing that was the parlance for purveyors of the West Coast “Cool” scene. At septet-size, the band has the girth and tonal diversity to dig into Daniels’ arrangements, and while nothing is that out of the ordinary it’s still exemplary of the prevailing jazz style of specific time and place. Sims was perfectly at home in this sort of setting through his superlative stints as both section player and soloist with Woody Herman’s Herd and the Gerry Mulligan Sextet, the second bearing a strong resemblance to the instrumentation here. He cruises through Daniels’ ordered charts with indefatigable ease.

While none approached his stature, Sims’ colleagues on the album, save one, went on to various careers as studio session men, film composers, teachers and the like. That exception was baritonist Bob Gordon, who died in a car accident shortly after the session was waxed. His presence, arguably even more so than Sims’, makes the date a valuable one. Gordon’s sound mixed the graceful agility of Mulligan with the brawny heft of Pepper Adams. His solos, which vary appreciably between takes, regularly supply the music with added weight and register as several-chorus capsule studies in why his compatriots held him in such esteem.

It also helps that the iterations of the tunes are individual enough to sustain interest. Two versions of “The Way You Look Tonight” feature Sims as sole soloist, while the third includes Gordon in the rotation to even greater success. The rhythm section of Paul Atkerson, Rolly Bundock and Jack Sperling does a serviceable job throughout, but also illustrates why none in its number are well known today. Daniels and guitarist Tony Rizzi aren’t that far removed in terms of relative anonymity, although the former does turn in a cleanly muted solo on the title piece. Still around, trombonist Dick Nash has profile a tier or two beneath that of Sims, again thanks mainly to longevity. His fluid ensemble fills and lubricious solos, particularly on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” keep the sextet consistently on an even keel.

Hardly a highpoint in Sims’ storied career, this set still scores points for being strongly evocative of its vintage and an enjoyable listen for the duration.

By Derek Taylor

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