Flute Flight // Bobby Jasper & Herbie Mann (Prestige 7124)

Here’s an album off the beaten trail that I find myself frequently grabbing on Sunday mornings, an album perfect lazy days. Listen closely enough and you can hear the pancakes sizzling on the griddle. Now I’m making myself hungry… Every April and May, I engage in some musical silliness on my humble blog where I pay homage to one of my favorite jazz standards. This post continues that inside joke. That’s the only hint you’ll get. Alright, enough preamble. To the music!


The Music

The Tune: “Flute Bob”

Recorded: 12 March, 1957 at Van Gelder Studios, New Jersey

Personnel:

  • Bobby Jasper – Flute
  • Eddie Costa – Vibes
  • Tommy Flanagan – Piano
  • Doug Watkins – Bass
  • Bobby Donaldson – Drums

The Tune: “Bo-Do”

Recorded: 21 March, 1957 at Van Gelder Studios, New Jersey

Personel:

  • Herbie Mann – Flute
  • Bobby Jasper- Flute
  • Joe Puma – Guitar
  • Tommy Flanagan – Piano
  • Wendell Marshall – Bass
  • Bobby Donaldson – Drums

Recorded in that great year for jazz and music in general, this record is somewhat of a sleeper in the annals of jazz. Nothing particularly crazy, groundbreaking, or new happens, but that’s part of what makes this album a perfect soundtrack for an easy Sunday morning. It’s light, upbeat, and happy, languidly flowing from track to track.

The record comprises of two different recording dates with two different lineups. The first side features two tracks from a record date teaming Belgian reedman Bobby Jasper with American reedman Herbie Mann, with a supple rhythm section showcasing the taste and talents of Joe Puma’s guitar, Tommy Flanagan’s piano, Doug Watkins’ bass and Bobby Donaldson’s drums. These tracks were leftovers from a session that resulted in the Prestige album ‘Flute Soufflé’. The two tracks feature Jasper and Mann on flute playing a slow blues and an original composition by Puma. The combo of two flutes isn’t as shrill as you’d think, and actually compliments each other quite well. Flanagan’s tasty piano does help, as does Donaldson’s use of brushes. Jasper is Jasper and Mann is Mann. Bobby Jasper was in Miles Davis’ quintet during the 1957 season, a band that never officially recorded but from the bootleg recordings that survive was a swinging group. Jasper was mainly a saxophonist but could blow some fine flute when asked politely. Herbie Mann meanwhile was mainly a flutist and the main practitioner of the instrument in jazz contexts, but could wail on the tenor sax (and even made the first jazz album featuring the bass clarinet). Their tracks together are more relaxed in nature, the epitome of a Sunday morning.

The second side more pointedly features Jasper as leader, still on flute but this time leading a quintet with the then-new and rising star Eddie Costa on vibes and same rhythm section from the previous session, minus Puma’s guitar. The easy-going atmosphere from the first side is retained for the most part, but then everyone snaps to attention and gets things moving with an up-tempo original from Mr. Jaspar entitled “Flute Bob”. Borrowing the chords from a well-known jazz standard (wink wink) and slightly tweaking them a bit, Jaspar’s new tune darts and weaves between the actual melody and the improvised conversations carried by different members of the group in a round. It’s a delightful performance of mainstream modern jazz circa 1957, with the combination of flute, vibes, piano and brushes creating delicious music.

Down Beat’s Dom Cerulli reviewed the album in 1958, awarding it three and a half stars (between good and very good, I guess that means he thought it was pretty good?). He called the Herbie Mann/Bobby Jaspar side “quite absorbing” and Jaspar’s side “more routine”. He doles out compliments to the rhythm section, singling out drummer Donaldson’s crisply recorded drums. I personally found his drums to be excellently recorded but rather annoying (cloying is a term Down Beat loved to use back in the 1950’s) in execution. On “Flute Bob”, and throughout the album really, he never seems to decide if he wants to actually use the brushes to stir or to ride on the cymbals. This combined with his sloppy accents and syncopations and rather lack-luster solos during the fours left me rather unimpressed, but then again, we can’t all be a Joe Morello or a Philly Joe Jones. I still dig the music though, understated drums and all. As the kids say these days, it’s a vibe, and one that I find relaxing and inviting.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: B

Some might say I’m biased because of my affinity to ornithology, but I dig this album cover! The juxtaposition of the white birds against the deep blackness of the cover makes for a striking piece of art. The birds themselves, blurred in motion, creates a sense of movement, of urgency, of fleeting whimsy. Luckily, designer Marc Rice opted to let this artwork speak for itself and confined the type unobtrusively to the bottom of the cover, tastefully out of the way and highlighted in a rich orange which stands in stark contrast to the black and white artwork. Simplicity, taste, stark beauty. An arresting cover and one of my personal favorite in Prestige’s catalog.

The Back

Ira Gitler (grrr) contributes the liner notes. Prestige liners in the mid-1950’s were rather hilarious spaces due to the appearance of petty slander and grievances that ranged from relatively harmless gripes like the one here about the shortcomings of how jazz polls were conducted to more wild hit jobs like the bit about some critic that apparently didn’t know what he was talking about concerning Charlie Parker, managed to have his foibles published in a major publication, and thus made a fool of himself. It’s a jazz album, not Down Beat (which in the 1950’s was more like the gossip columns). They were a wild bunch, the jazz press was back then.

As for the notes here, I’m no fan of Ira Gitler. Read the liner notes yourself and tell me what you think. Bless his heart.

The Vinyl

Prestige’s classic yellow and black are some of the more famous record labels of all time, up there with Blue Note’s classic labels and Columbia’s 6-eye labels. They just look good. That’s the case here. They’re actually gold, not this dandelion yellow, but the lighting does what it wants. This is an interesting record pressing. One side has a label with a New York address while the other side has a New Jersey address. The second side also has a different kind of indentation in the center. Increasing the intrigue, side one (NYC address) has Rudy Van Gelder’s initials stamped into the wax runnout, but side two (NJ address) has RVG’s initials hand-written into the wax by the man himself. I don’t know what, if any, significance this has, and whether that makes this a first, second, first first, or whatever pressing, but it’s deep groove on both side, which means it’s a pre-1960’s era pressing.

Speaking of RVG, the man did a great job mastering this record. The bass and drums are perfect, although I never liked how he recorded vibraphones. Especially Costa’s. The record sounds fantastic, though, playing with minimal noise and almost no groove wear. Recorded just before stereo became a thing, RVG’s mono reigns supreme. This is one of the best-sounding Prestige albums I own.

The Place of Acquisition

I first discovered this album back when I was in college while on YouTube one night. It was my junior year and I thought it was pretty solid. I had never known that Herbie Mann recorded for Prestige Records, and Bobby Jaspar was a name I recognized, which warranted further inspection. The sidemen were all guys I had heard before, which made me dig it more. A few years later, while making a regular stop at the local record store in Huntsville, Alabama, I couldn’t believe it when I pulled this out from the bins in the jazz section. I say it often, but Vertical House Records in Huntsville is a gem. I still can’t believe I found this record there, and for $8, I got to add to my collection a record that I would grow to love more and more with each spin and a record that would become my Sunday morning soundtrack.

One thought on “Flute Flight // Bobby Jasper & Herbie Mann (Prestige 7124)

  1. Some fine Bobby Jaspar saxophone on french vogue label.- sometimes including Sacha Distel on guitar before his vocal career. Jasper, incidentally, was married to Blossom Dearie.

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