The January 1956 Savoy and Atlantic sessions
"Without doubt, in the legendary category are the 1956/57 quintet and sextet sessions led by vibraphonist Milt Jackson and featuring the tenor saxophone of Lucky Thompson. These sessions, Milt Jackson Quintet and Sextet with Lucky Thompson (Fresh Sound Records, 2012), originally on the Savoy label, represent quintessential, relatively early Bags, soulfully swinging as always, and apart from what some believed were the "confines" of the Modern Jazz Quartet. This set stands as Jackson's first sessions as a leader, though he had been recording as early as the mid-1940s. The vibraphonist's playing is fully formed here, as is Thompson's modern version of Don Byas. Many of the sidemen on these titles, which include drummer Kenny Clarke, bassist Oscar Pettiford, pianists Hank Jones, Horace Silver, and the MJQ's John Lewis, qualify for legendary status as well. These sides are landmarks in the history of recorded jazz." — All About Jazz (review of Fresh Sound Records CD release, January 8, 2013)
>Listen: Full playlist on YouTube
Session #1: "Roll Em Bags" / "Meet Milt Jackson" (Milt Jackson Quintet, Savoy)
NYC, January 5, 1956
Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Milt Jackson, vibes; Wade Legge, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.
Tracks: Come Rain Or Come Shine, They Can't Take That Away From Me, Wild Man, Soulful, Fred's Mood, Flamingo
These Savoy releases combine sides from early 1949 with the first of "the excellent 1956 sessions Jackson did with Lucky Thompson (tenor sax), along with Wade Legge, Wendell Marshall, and Kenny Clarke, starting with a relaxed, amiable reading of Come Rain or Come Shine. The high points, however, are the Jackson originals Fred's Mood and Wild Man. Although not commonly viewed as a hard bop pioneer, the urbane, bluesy structures that distinguish Jackson's writing at this time, arguably, make him a trailblazer for the movement. Certainly it is the Jackson originals that draw out the best from both the vibist and Thompson on their two January 1956 sessions. [...] Thompson's sound and technical mastery put him in the pantheon of Webster, Hawkins, Byas, and Lester Young. Jackson brims with bright ideas at every turn. The rhythm section are -- no surprises here -- a classy, supporting cast." - Allmusic.com
Session #2: "Ballads & Blues" (Milt Jackson Sextet, Atlantic)
NYC, January 17, 1956
Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Skeeter Best, guitar; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.
Tracks: Hello, Bright Blues, How High The Moon
"This really is the sort of reissue that makes me want to trot out the tired old cliché – they don’t make ’em like this anymore. The trouble is it’s true, they really don’t. Jackson lined up a truly all-star band for this 1956 album, made during three sessions, undated and with personnel changes. On How High The Moon and two more tracks he begins with a slow, rhapsodic vibes introduction and then begins to swing easily but mightily. The next solo is by that great, much underrated tenor man Lucky Thompson, who matches and almost surpasses Milt with a lightweight, gently pulsing tenor sax outing full of invention and sounding so easy to do that hundreds of tenor players must have been frustrated over the years trying unsuccessfully to emulate it. John Lewis follows with a typically spare but effective solo outing and the rhythm section purrs along with consummate skill all through. Hello is an upbeat track and Bright Blues lives up to its name effectively at medium up tempo. All three sessions [included on this album] have a high standard of improvisation and all swing compellingly, with the date that Lucky Thompson appeared on being the best of a really good bunch." - Jazz Journal UK
Session #3: "The Jazz Skyline" / "Jackson's-Ville" (Milt Jackson Quintet, Savoy)
NYC, January 23, 1956
Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Milt Jackson, vibes; Hank Jones, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.
Tracks: (The Jazz Skyline) Lover, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, The Lady Is A Tramp, Angel Face, Sometimes I'm Happy, What's New?
"[Jackson's] 1955-6 sessions are among his classic statements. The two to have are The Jazz Skyline and Jackson's-Ville, since they find the leader and Lucky Thompson in perfect, memorable accord. This is cool, reflective bebop, lightly shot through with the blues. Jackson's dexterity and fine understanding of his instrument's capabilities blend with the smooth yet questing improvisations by Thompson to a degree rarely matched in such impromptu situations." - Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD
Tracks (Jackson's-Ville): Now's The Time, In A Sentimental Mood/Mood Indigo/Azure, Minor Conception, Soul In 3/4
"This fine 1956 date features Jackson leading a session that moves with ease and authority through a relaxing eight-minute ride on Charlie Parker's Now's the Time, an Ellington ballad medley, and a pair of the vibist's own blues-based, hard bop compositions. The real treat here is Lucky Thompson's tenor sax. The Don Byas-influenced Thompson has a sound that invites the listener to luxuriate in its grace and strength. Thompson solos on Mood Indigo with a sublime, breathy legato, adding bite and rougher edges -- without sacrificing nuance or subtlety -- on Jackson's Minor Conception and Soul in 3/4. For his part, Jackson reels off a fluid stream of shifting, seamless, advanced blues -- his time, phrasing, and execution all exquisite. In the rhythm section, Hank Jones, Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke support with the ego-free artistry expected of the Savoy house band of the day. Jackson's-Ville is one of four Savoy CDs that pair Jackson with Thompson. As a collection, they comprise a vital document that sits nicely alongside Jackson's and Thompson's work with Miles Davis from this period." - Allmusic.com (on Jackson's-Ville)