Thursday, September 9, 2010

Recent Listening - Somewhat Lesser-Known Names From The Jazz Canon

A quick rundown of some albums I've been enjoying lately from the classic, "hard bop" era of the late '50s to early '60s (the exception, Hank Jones' I Remember You, was recorded in 1977 but is stylistically not too far removed from the earlier era):

Sonny Clark - Cool Struttin', Sonny Clark Trio, Sonny's Crib, and especially Leapin' & Lopin' (musicians on these four albums include Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Charlie Rouse, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Billy Higgins, Art Taylor, and Philly Joe Jones)

Hank Jones - I Remember You (recorded in France w/ George Duvivier and Oliver Jackson) and Relaxin' at Camarillo (w/ Belgian flautist Bobby Jaspar, Paul Chambers and Kenny Clarke)

Phineas Newborn, Jr. - We Three (w/ Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes - probably should be considered a leaderless or co-led session, but sometimes listed as a Roy Haynes album as his name is first on the cover)

Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental (w/ Grant Green, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones) and his exquisite (and apparently career reviving) solo on "Deep in a Dream" from Leapin' & Lopin'

If there's something like a common denominator here, other than the fact that all of the above artists are less well known than they deserve to be (though there was a small surge of interest in Hank Jones upon his death at age 91 and Sonny Clark has apparently always been big in Japan), it's Paul Chambers, who plays bass on six of the eight albums mentioned, in three instances with Philly Joe Jones (a pretty much unbeatable combination) and with three other all-time-great drummers (Art Taylor, Kenny Clarke, and Roy Haynes) on the other records.  Chambers is well-known for his work with Miles Davis and for playing on a million other classic sessions in a short but brilliant life (I love Charlie Haden's comments on him at the end of this interview), but George Duvivier's superb playing with Hank Jones caught me off guard because I wasn't as familiar with him.  I'd heard him on a few things, including records with Bud Powell and Eric Dolphy (along w/ Ron Carter on cello!), but hadn't paid him much mind until hearing I Remember You.  I guess there's never been a major surplus of world-class bassists, so it shouldn't be surprising that, like Hank Jones, Duvivier played with a wide range of musicians over a long career - still, it's a fun list, including Cab Calloway, Moondog, Janis Ian, Barry Manilow, and Tom Waits.

Re: my Sonny Clark binge, the undeniable-but-not-fully-explicable greatness of Leapin' & Lopin' is an interesting case.  When he recorded it, Clark was coming off a period of reduced musical activity (apparently due to his drug problem), and the band for the date consisted mostly of musicians who, while top-notch professionals, were a tier down from the big names on many of his previous albums.  Great as they may have been, Charlie Rouse and Butch Warren were not John Coltrane and Paul Chambers.  On paper, L&L seems like it would be a solid effort by an artist in premature decline, good but not up to previous standards.  In fact, it's probably one of the best records of its era, an era when classic records were being recorded on a weekly basis.  One of those records where, by some mysterious (chemical? alchemical?) process, everything came together.

Part of the record's success, obviously, has to do with the way that this group of musicians fit together (having Billy Higgins on drums is always a good start), but Clark's strong compositions, making up half the album, are also a big factor, especially the instantly memorable "Melody for C".  The aforementioned "Deep in a Dream" (why hasn't this standard been recorded more often?) is one of the archetypal romantic ballad performances.  Set slightly apart from the rest of the album, in its own smoky ether, by the substitution of Ike Quebec for Tommy Turrentine and Charlie Rouse, this track is the thing that puts this album in a special category for me.  Quebec's own Blue & Sentimental, one of the only albums from his post-Leapin' & Lopin' comeback era not to feature organ, is a very successful pairing of old skool tenor (hearkening back to the pre-bop, Hawkins/Young/Webster era while looking forward to the soul jazz trend) with some then state-of-the-art talent in Grant Green and Chambers/Jones.  It's a moody, enveloping listen and leaves me wanting to hear more Grant Green (I've got my eye on this in particular).

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