Paul Desmond: Things Ain't What They Used to Be


Things Ain't What They Used to Be


Paul Desmond (alto sax)


Live (Verve 314 543 501)

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Paul Desmond (alto sax), Ed Bickert (guitar), Don Thompson (bass), Jerry Fuller (drums).

Composed by Mercer Ellington & Ted Persons


Recorded: Basin Street, Toronto, October 25-November 1, 1975


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Desmond's live recordings at Toronto's Basin Street club, made less than two years before his death, rank among my favorite post-Brubeck performances by the altoist. He stretches out lazily over the songs -- the tracks from Basin Street all range from 7 to 12 minutes -- and plays with great relaxation and melodic inventiveness. Professor Desmond offers a textbook in thematic improvisation, playing without reliance on memorized licks or patterns, no scales or technical grandstanding. But you will be having so much fun you won't even realize that jazz school is in session. Desmond is the anti-Coltrane here, creating solos that are so lovingly constructed, phrase by phrase, that they literally serve as new melodies to old changes. On "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," as on many of the Toronto tracks, Desmond takes two solos, one immediately after the opening melody and a second following the bass improvisation, and it's hard to say which wins top honors. Both are taut and clever, without wasted energy. In between, listeners are treated to a lengthy excursion by the underappreciated Ed Bickert, a tasteful soloist who never disappoints. Ah, I wish we still had this band around to enjoy, but things truly ain't what they used to be.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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