Teddy Charles - "The Teddy Charles Tentet"

 "The Teddy Charles Tentet" - Front Cover

Teddy Charles • The Teddy Charles Tentet • 1956 • Atlantic Records 1229
Recorded January 6, 11 & 17 at Coastal Recording Studios, NYC

The Players:
Teddy Charles - Vibes
Art Farmer as "Peter Urban" - Trumpet
Don Butterfield - Tuba
Gigi Gryce - Alto Sax
J.R. Monterose - Tenor Sax
George Barrow - Baritone Sax 
Sol Schlinger - Baritone Sax (A1, A3, B4)
Mal Waldron - Piano
Jimmy Raney - Guitar
Teddy Kotick - Bass
Joe Harris - Drums
Jimmy Giuffre - Arranger (A2, B1)
Bob Brookmeyer - Arranger (B2, B3)
Gil Evans - Arranger (B2, B3)
George Russell - Arranger (A1, A3, B4)

The Tracks:
A1. Vibrations
A2. The Quiet Time
A3. The Emperor
B1. Nature Boy
B2. Green Blues
B3. You Go To My Head
B4. Lydian M-1

The Music:

Teddy Charles had an important place in jazz in the 1950's before essentially disappearing from the music business altogether from the 1960's onward (before a brief comeback in 2012). His lasting reputation will always lie with The Teddy Charles Tentet, an influential album that took an adventurous take on jazz that was quite ahead of it's time. Just check out "Lydian M-1" above, a modal track composed by the great George Russell that was recorded a couple years before Miles Davis pushed the concept of jazz based on scale patterns into brand new territory. It may not seem so today, but this album was considered truly experimental upon it's release in 1956, which is not particularly surprising since Charles' primary influences came from non-jazz composers such as Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Joining Charles on vibes was an all-star lineup of musicians including Art Farmer (billed as Peter Urban), Gigi Gryce, J.R. Monterose, Mal Wadron and Jimmy Raney. The arrangers present were equally important to the recording, including Russell, Jimmy Guiffre, Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans (a couple years before he started working with Miles). Charles' vibe playing doesn't break any new ground, but drives the session along and clearly pushes his fellow musicians to sound their best.

Like many, the majority of jazz I enjoy adheres to the trio, quartet and quintet formats, and I often find larger groups a bit to busy for my tastes. This record, however, employs the tentet approach in a tasteful, almost sparse, manner. The songs never feel crowded, with the musicians stepping up to take quality solos throughout. A few of the compositions remind me of the classic work of Mingus, which is no surprise as Charles and Mingus were both members of the Jazz Composers' Workshop (along with Teo Macero) in the early 1950's. They clearly learned a few tricks from each other.


The Vinyl:

My copy is an original mono pressing from 1956 with the black Atlantic label. The heavy vinyl, while probably not unbreakable, has that deep vintage sound with crisp highs and lows. The one peculiar thing about this copy is that the text on the cover is only white, where all other copies I've seen online have white and green lettering. I'm not sure what this means, and until I find out otherwise, I will take it as one of the those variances that occur when trying to authenticate a vinyl pressing.

While this record is often cited as an essential jazz recording from the 1950's it is not as well known as many others, and as a result can often be had a quite a bargain. A Very Good Plus copy is currently going on eBay for between $25-$50.