Neil Swainson: 49th Parallel

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In 1987, Neil Swainson wanted to record six original compositions. At the time, the Canadian bassist was playing Toronto jazz clubs with Canadian drummer Jerry Fuller and pianist Gary Williamson. When Woody Shaw came to town earlier that year, the trio backed him. Swainson also played with the trumpeter a couple of years earlier and recorded on Shaw's Solid album in 1986 and on Shaw's In My Own Sweet Way in February '87.

Swainson told executive producer Kate Roach about his album idea, that he wanted Shaw and Joe Henderson for the date. Roach reached out to both artists, negotiated the deal and brought them on board. Shaw and Henderson had history. They recorded on Horace Silver's The Cape Verdean Blues (1965), Larry Young's Unity (1965), Henderson's Jazz Patterns (1970), Henderson's If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem (1970), Shaw's Rosewood (1977) and the Paris Reunion Band's For Klook (1986). 

Roach also raised the money needed for the recording, and Pat Coleman agreed to produce the sessions. As the recording dates neared in May '87, Shaw came to Toronto alone. By then, he was blind, a result of retinitis pigmentosa. Swainson took him through each song on his piano at home until Shaw had the material locked in. But when Swainson, Shaw, Fuller and Williamson arrived at Toronto's Studio 306 to record on May 2, Henderson didn't show. So just the quartet recorded Port of Spain, On the Lam and Labyrinth.

The following day, Henderson arrived and the quintet recorded 49th Parallel, Southern Exposure, Don't Hurt Yourself (with Shaw out) and Homestretch, a Henderson original first recorded on his album Page One, in 1963.

The session tapes were played for Concord Records in 1988. Concord bought them and released the album in the U.S. later that year as Neil Swainson Quintet. The music recorded on both dates is top notch. There's a speial strength and depth to Henderson's and Shaw's playing, Swainson's originals are earthy and powerful, and the trio feeds the heat like a bellows. Shaw would record two more studio albums before dying in 1989—his Imagination, for Muse in June 1987, and on Carlos Ward's Lito in July 1988, on the U.K.'s Leo label.

Kudos to Cory Weeds and Neil Swainson for reissuing the recording as Neil Swainson Quintet; 49th Parallel, a superb hard-bop album that has been difficult to find at a reasonable price until now.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Neil Swainson's 49th Parallel (Reel to Reel) here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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