Elvin Jones • Merry Go Round • 1972 • Blue Note Records
Recorded December 15, 1971 at Van Gelder Studios
A1. 'Round Town
A2. Brite Piece
A4. A Time For Love
B1. La Fiesta
B2. The Children's Merry-Go-Round March
B3. Who's Afraid...
Elvin Jones - Drums
Joe Farrell - Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute
David Liebman - Tenor Sax, Soprano Sax
Steve Grossman - Tenor Sax
Pepper Adams - Baritone Sax
Frank Foster - Alto Clarinet (B3 Only)
Yoshiaki Masuo - Guitar
Chick Corea - Piano & Electric Piano
Jan Hammer - Piano & Electric Piano
Gene Perla - Acoustic Bass & Fender Bass
Don Alias - Conga
While Merry Go Round may not be as well known as the rest of Elvin Jones' Blue Note output, it is an excellent and very enjoyable post-bop album that deserves to be mentioned alongside the best of his solo work. It features a much larger ensemble of players than his previous LPs on the label, certainly a far cry from his piano-less trios on albums like The Ultimate and Puttin' It Together. The group on hand is a cohesive unit, no big surprise considering David Liebman, Steve Grossman and Gene Perla were part of Jones' touring Quartet during this time. The addition of Farrell is an added bonus, as he had done some of his best straight-ahead jazz work alongside Jones on those piano-less trio albums. All four musicians had also appeared on Jones' Genesis (which I wrote about here) recorded about ten months prior to Merry Go Round.
The sound on Merry Go Round is similar to Jones' other records from the time, solid post-bop with some avant-garde flair that stays rooted in the more grounded Blue Note hard bop tradition. It certainly doesn't have the spacey feel of Genesis, and there is even a little soul jazz funkiness thrown in with "'Round Town" opening up the album. Grossman, and then Liebman, get the solos on "'Round Town," both blowing hard and soulfully over some great guitar work by the somewhat obscure Yoshiaki Masuo on guitar. "Brite Piece" quickly returns the proceedings to the post-bop realm, with Liebman and Farrell both soloing exuberantly atop Don Alias' oriental bells, while Elvin Jones puts down some of his finest work on the whole album. As Colman Andrews puts it in the liner notes, "Jones, of all people, doesn't need another percussionist in his group, but he sure as hell knows how to use one."
The album closes out with a doozy, Who's Afraid..., a Frank Foster compostion (and his only appearance on the album) that is a tribute to the late co-founder of Blue Note, Frank Wolff. The track is a whirlwind of reeds, led by Foster on the alto clarinet, and anchored to perfection by Perla's electric bass and Jones restrained virtuosity on the drums. As Coltrane once wrote of Jones, "I especially like his ability to mix and juggle rhythms. He's also always aware of everything else that's happening. I guess you could say he has the ability to be in three places at the same time." Hard to argue with that assessment, given both it's source and Jones' recorded legacy, and Merry Go Round certainly bolsters the case that Elvins Jones was one of the most creative and influential jazz drummers of his time.
A second pressing on the classic blue-and-white label with the "A DIVISION OF UNITED ARTISTS RECORDS, INC." text along the top. This label version is much better known for the rare titles that were reissued on it, and as with those, the sound on this pressing is excellent: loud and crystal clear analog playback with great depth and separation of the many musicians and soloists. Interestingly, while it was recorded at Van Gelder Studios there is no "Van Gelder" stamp or initials to be found in the runoff. A true first pressing of this would be on the Liberty/U.A. black and light blue label version, the one with the Blue Note logo boxed in on the left side.
One oddity with this release is the addition of the liner notes printed on a full 12" by 12" insert that was included inside the record. There may be other examples of this in Blue Note's discography, but none that I can remember ever coming across. It certainly is a bit extravagant for an early seventies jazz release, as it had to have increased production costs at a time when post-bop jazz records weren't exactly flying off the shelves. It's really nice to have such extensive liner notes accompanying a jazz LP from this time period, but it is definitely an oddity for the storied label.
I paid $10 for this copy a couple years ago, which is probably in the neighborhood of what you could expect to spend for it today. According to Discogs Merry Go Round was not reissued again after this second pressing and was only issued on CD in Japan in 2010. It is currently available to stream on all the major services, so it can be heard until you track down a copy on vinyl. Interestingly, it was issued in Germany in 1972 on the blue-and-white label, but that version has "A DIVISION OF LIBERTY RECORDS, INC." along the top, which hadn't appeared on a US Blue Note label after 1970. Maybe the sale of Blue Note to United Artists only applied to the US? Whatever the case, that one is a new label variation to me.
Here is the Elvin Jones Quartet with Dave Liebman (as), Steve Grossman (ts) and Gene Perla (b) running through a blistering take of "Brite Piece" in France in 1973:
And for a taste of the Elvin Jones Trio with Joe Farrell (ts) and Jimmy Garrison (b) that appeared on Jones' first two Blue Note albums, check them out in 1968 tearing through "Gingerbread Boy" during an appearance on Denmark TV:
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