This is the kind of niche market compilation which gives reissue companies operating outside the fifty-year copyright rule a good name. This lovingly put together, decently remastered, comprehensively annotated, four-disc set focuses on the breakthrough years of one of the most fecund and formidable tenor saxophonists Britain has ever produced.
Tubby Hayesa child prodigy who took up the saxophone at the age of twelve and was a full-time professional at fifteencame to national prominence in the late 1950s as a co-leader, with fellow tenor player Ronnie Scott, of the Jazz Couriers. From this relatively straight-ahead hard bop beginning, Hayes developed an increasingly singular and adventurous style during the 1960s, as a composer, arranger and player (adding vibraphone, flute and soprano saxophone to his repertoire). He died aged just 38 in 1973, on the edge of greatness.
The Little Giant, which covers the three years from January 1954 to December 1956, charts Hayes' precocious early sideman days through the formation of his first bands, stopping just short of the birth of the Jazz Couriers in 1957. There are 71 tracks, presented chronologically by session date, including five previously unissued tracks.
Right from the very first sessions, featuring the Vic Lewis orchestra playing the Gerry Mulligan songbook, it's clear that Hayes was something special. Still only eighteen years old, his solos are astonishingly maturepoised, architectural and immaculately played. Listening to his progress over the next three years is like watching one of those speeded-up films of plants growing. Right in front of you, the ideas gets weightier, the saxophone tone richer, and the playing technique, already advanced, truly formidable (like Mozart and John Coltrane before him, Hayes would later be accused of playing "too many notes.")
The quality of the settings variesBritish modern jazz in the mid-1950s was still learning the new musical language coming out of the US and had yet to find its own voicebut by disc four, subtitled Message To The Messengers, Hayes was already secure in his own identity. The unspoken message to the Jazz Messengers might have been, watch out, I'm coming at you.
Because of the inconsistent standard of the featured bands, The Little Giant isn't the rounded delight of landmark albums like Down In The Village (Redial, 1962) or Mexican Green (Impressed/Re-pressed, 1967). But Hayes' presence lights up even the most generic hard bop setting and creates something wonderful and enduring.
Personnel: Tubby Hayes: tenor and (cd1/7, cd4/6, cd4/7) baritone saxophone. CD1: Vic Lewis And His Orchestra, Jack Parnell And His Orchestra, Tubby Hayes And His Orchestra. CD2: Jimmy Deuchar Ensemble, Tubby Hayes And His Orchestra, Dizzy Reece Quintet, Tubby Hayes Quartet. CD3: Victor Feldman Big Band, Tubby Hayes And His Orchestra. CD4: Tubby Hayes Quintet, Jazz At The Flamingo, Victor Feldman Ninetet, Victor Feldman Big Band.