The notion of recording that perfect session, of capturing lightning in a bottle so to speak, was once one of the ultimate goals in music. Before the magic of studio bells and whistles, musicians had to hope the stars were aligned to get that perfect touch. With The Lost 1974 Sessions, Canadian jazz great Peter Appleyard comes damn close thanks to the assembly of a group of terrific musicians, a few bottles of wine and one night in Toronto.
Appleyard travelled often as one of Benny Goodman’s jazz sextet. One night in 1974, he played with Benny’s band at the Ontario Place Forum. Sitting in with the likes of Slam Stewart (bass), Hank Jones (piano), Zoot Sims (tenor saxophone), Urbie Green (trombone), Bobby Hackett (cornet), and Mel Lewis (drums) is a treat at the best of times, but something about the Toronto set struck Appleyard right where it counted.
Appleyard dubbed the group the Jazz Giants and decided that he couldn’t miss the opportunity to record the magic. “I called a friend at RCA studios, who advised that luckily for me they were not booked that night,” he recalls in the album’s liner notes. “The band were agreeable, so we all headed over, ordered some Chinese food and a few bottles of wine and recorded this album, starting at 11 and finishing at 3 am.”
The Lost 1974 Sessions digs into that chow mein-fuelled night in Toronto and captures the moments. It even includes session outtakes and the little bits of studio banter that create the whole experience. It is as close to being there as possible.
It is apparent from the outset that this group is stunningly composed. The music flows elegantly and with purpose, the members sliding into their roles seamlessly. It really is perfection on tape and nothing detracts from the brilliance. The gentle whir of recording equipment is audible at times, floating softly over Lewis’ beautiful brushwork like another member of the Jazz Giants.
The opening “Ellington Medley” introduces things with Jones’ piano phrasing and Appleyard’s eloquent vibes. The two match up for a delicately warm conversation that is ever-so-gently underlined by Lewis and Stewart. The medley includes bits of “Sophisticated Lady” and “Prelude to a Kiss” along with portions of other Ellington numbers.
Elsewhere, the Jazz Giants work through numbers like “But Beautiful,” with Hackett’s input shining through. His gift, exemplified through his work with the likes of Glenn Miller and Tony Bennet, draws out the other players beautifully.
The Lost 1974 Sessions also includes roughly 25 minutes of outtakes. These help place the Jazz Giants at a moment in time in Canada and they make the recording a human experience. Shedding light on the conversations and the processes behind making music isn’t always popular these days, but Appleyard’s contribution is certainly worth checking out for those fans who wonder just what it was like on one perfect evening in September of 1974.