The bassist and raconteur Bill Crow once remarked that people don’t talk much about Gerry Mulligan any more. For veteran listeners, Mulligan was for many years a dominant force in the music: arranger for Claude Thornhill, the Birth of the Cool sessions, the pianoless quartet with Chet Baker, the concert big band, and record dates with everyone from Ben Webster to Dave Brubeck to Thelonious Monk. It’s true, though, maybe because Coltrane and Ornette took the music in a different direction and younger musicians followed suit. Remember how “West Coast jazz” was cool and then it wasn’t?
It’s a shame, though. Take Night Lights, for example. In 1963, Mulligan, Art Farmer, Bob Brookmeyer, the aforesaid Bill Crow, and Dave Bailey put together a masterpiece of what could be called “late night jazz”―subdued, worldly-wise, and subtly emotional. The album is a quest for classic beauty, which isn’t really much in style these days. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia on my part; it’s simply beautiful music. The title tune feature Mulligan on piano rather than baritone, with a bonus track of the same composition with him on clarinet. Art Farmer, especially on flugelhorn, is one of the most eloquent players ever. His tone, his choice of notes, and depth of feeling are always remarkable. Brookmeyer and hall fit the mood as well, with Crow and Bailey’s accompaniment in support. I’m not in the mood for analysis on this one―just listening.
Here's Festive Minor and Night Lights: