A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Ready Take One LP by Erroll Garner.
What do critics really know about jazz? Such was the first question I found myself asking as I wound my way through Popmatters and Jazzwax looking at longer-lead reviews of Ready Take One. Complaints about Martha Glaser’s production styling and the looseness of pianist Erroll Garner’s performances were commonplace, but that really strengthened my resolve to listen closely; any number of things could have been accentuated or overlooked in the name of being a “critic’s critic,” or simply being regarded as the guy with “the sharp ears who noticed [insert impossibly small sonic element of your choice here].”
I’m not that kind of critic. For jazz records in particular, I’m more interested in the heart of the recording, the spontaneous creative instinct which leads to a satisfying experience overall… something which has the possibility of being moving – not something which inspires critics to stroke their beards in approval and over-intellectualize creativity. Some call it “raw,” and that’s the kind of jazz record I like. That’s also the kind of album that Ready Take One proves itself to be from the moment “High Wire” finds its rhythm; after that, listeners will be able to hear Garner humming along as he plays and, in that, the mood of Ready Take One is established.
Backed by a revolving cast of bass players and drummers (including but certainly not limited to Jimmie Smith, Ernest McCarty, Jose Mangual, Ike Isaacs and George Duvivior), Garner rattles through impressions of songs by Duke Ellington, Doc Daugherty, Cole Porter, Leslie Reynolds and more IN ADDITION TO also offering different impressions of Garner originals like “Sunny” and “Misty” with a loose and carefree (but certainly not thoughtless) air which retains any and all perceived “flaws” and “imperfections” because the whole album is a “one and done” affair.
The producer working the board on the sessions which ultimately yielded this album was Garner’s manager, Martha Glaser, whose assumption was obviously that a producer’s only role in an album is to hit ‘record’ and just let the pianist go from there without really offering assistance or development (the takes of established Garner originals are solid performances, but not inspired ones). But the sense of fun and enjoyment at just playing translates very well and can definitely leave listeners of the right mind feeling warm and satisfied at the listening experience. In this particular case, the argument over whether or not these performances live up to Garner’s “artistic legacy” comes a distant second to the fun of it.
With all of that said, the final impression left by Ready Take One is an incredibly divisive one. Stuffy, self-important critics will complaint about Ready Take One because it is not an overbearing, meticulous and carefully constructed offering. That’s true, but as long as listeners are coming in simply hoping to hear great music being made by performers intent on cutting loose, having fun and pushing a couple of limits, they won’t be disappointed.