Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jutta Hipp and Zoot Sims, 1956

German pianist Jutta Hipp met versatile saxophonist Zoot Sims sometime in the 1950s in Germany, precisely during a European tour of the Stan Kenton band, of which Sims was a member at the time. Born in Leipzig in 1925, Hipp had been playing in her native country and recording only occasionally since the end of WWII. That is, until she met Sims and critic Leonard Feather, who persuaded her to move to New York City. Upon her arrival stateside in 1955, she encountered harsh criticism from both jazz fans and critics who believed that her playing style was too close to that of Lennie Tristano and, particularly, that of Horace Silver. But by 1956, when she appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival and cut this impressive session with Sims at Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio, she seems to have set out to prove her critics wrong.

Zoot and Jutta
Indeed, on Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims, released on Blue Note in 1956, Hipp stays away from the influence of Tristano and Silver, and her sound is full of swing on uptempo numbers ("Wee Dot," "Almost Like Being in Love," "Too Close for Comfort") and of restrained melancholy on "Violets for Your Furs," the only ballad of the session. The group is rounded out by Jerry Lloyd on trumpet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums, and this quintet setting is perfect to showcase Hipp's delicate playing. Lloyd provides an original composition ("Down Home") and Sims another one ("Just Blues"), and even though Sims's tenor saxophone is accorded more space than Hipp's piano, it is Hipp that creates the wistful, easy-going atmosphere that makes this album a winner. The 2008 CD reissue adds two tracks from the session that never made it onto the original LP ("These Foolish Things" and "'S Wonderful"), thus offering everything that Hipp and Sims recorded together. Hipp, who was also a talented painter, would inexplicably retire from the New York jazz scene shortly after leading this session, and this very recommendable quintet album is definitely the highlight of her meager, though very interesting, discography. Anyone who enjoys her collaboration with Sims should definitely look up her live cuts At the Hickory House (Blue Note, two volumes), as well as the recordings she made in Germany before moving to the U.S., which can be found on Frankfurt Special (Fresh Sound) and Lost Tapes: The German Recordings 1952-1955 (Jazzhaus).

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