Walt Dickerson - This Is Walt Dickerson

Walt Dickerson This Is Walt Dickerson! (New Jazz 1961)

This Is Walt Dickerson signaled the arrival of a new and original voice on the vibraphone.

Walt Dickerson - This Is Walt Dickerson

Personnel

Walt Dickerson (vibraphone), Austin Crow (piano), Bob Lewis (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums)

Recorded

on March 7, 1961 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as NJLP 8254 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Time
Elizabeth
The Cry
Side B:
Death And Taxes
Evelyn
Infinite You


The New Jazz label merits plenty of attention. The starting point for Bob Weinstock’s recording endeavors in 1949, Weinstock dropped the name in favor of Prestige in 1951, only to reinvent the name as the imprint for a hodgepodge of records in the late 50s and early 60s ranging from Johnny “Hammond” Smith to John Coltrane. The bulk consisted of avant-leaning sessions and served somewhat as the mirror image of Blue Note’s cutting-edge department, which offered challenging records by Herbie Hancock, Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson. New Jazz is lesser known to the general audience but equally exciting. After all these years, the energy of New Jazz albums by Steve Lacy, Yusef Lateef, Jaki Byard, Roy Haynes, Mal Waldron, Eric Dolphy and Oliver Nelson is still palpable. All of these records, both Blue Note and New Jazz, were engineered by Rudy van Gelder. Busy bee, Rudy. Seven days a week. Didn’t go on vacation, mostly stayed inside. Turned more pale by the minute. Sun shone not on his face but in the grooves of the great jazz men’s waxed offerings.

Dickerson is of the post-bop variety, concerned with the expansion of the vocabulary of the vibraphone, an expressive player that prefers the broad range of the modal sound palette. Dickerson’s four albums on New Jazz, recorded in 1961 and ’62, present the kind of seductive, tentative hybrids of mainstream and avant-garde that are just close enough to the tradition and not really too far out for me to enjoy. I feel that it’s the tension between tradition and experiment that gives records like Dickerson’s on New Jazz their particular charm.

The attraction of This Is Walt Dickerson’s set, my favorite of his foursome of New Jazz records that was concluded with Relativity, A Sense Of Direction and To My Queen, lies in the particular handling of a minimum of motives, which are played out, considering Dickerson’s abundant double-timing, remarkably unhurriedly. It’s a transient experience, soothing, hypnotic. Dickerson and his companion on the piano, Austin Crow, feel their way in a landscape without the customary chord changes and reach for a like-minded path through the dusk, their thoughts fanning out to the far reaches of the keyboard. Passionately, but not overtly dramatic, they express their emotions in no uncertain terms. This is stuff that goes from the gut to the heart. The base, consisting of bassist Bob Lewis and drummer Andrew Cyrille, future avant heavy, is solid and responsive. Young Cyrille’s accents and loose but solid feel perfectly bring out the qualities of Dickerson’s charged style.

No inconsiderate words should be said about a record that includes a crackerjack title like Death And Taxes. Pretty mean tune, too, with a quirky waltz feel and a couple of motives played out to full effect. The Cry, on the other hand, is a one-chord mambo romp, Time a sly medium-tempo take on the blues, Infinite You a relentless modal swinger. The tempo of Dickerson’s ballads, Elizabeth and Evelyn, is unusually slow, and is contrasted with torrents of sizzling and boiling notes by Dickerson, which never sound superfluous. I’m sure that Elizabeth and Evelyn, whoever they may have been, were touched considerably by Dickerson, who is singing his heart out below the balcony.

After the more avant Plays Unity on Audio Fidelity and an album with Sun Ra, Dickerson took a 10-year sabbatical in the mid-sixties and recorded mostly for Steeplechase in the late 70s. Dickerson passed away in 2008.

Pete La Roca - Basra

Pete La Roca Basra (Blue Note 1965)

Drummer Pete La Roca delved into exotic modality on his much-admired 1965 record on Blue Note, Basra.

Pete La Roca - Basra

Personnel

Pete La Roca (drums), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Steve Kuhn (piano), Steve Swallow (bass)

Recorded

on May 19, 1965 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as RLP 12-232 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Malaguena
Candu
Tears Come From Heaven
Side B:
Basra
Lazy Afternoon
Eiderdown


If I say Pete La Roca you will most likely answer with: Sonny Rollins, Live At The Village Vanguard. Small wonder, since it is his feature on Rollins’ game-changing LP that put him squarely in the vision of the night binoculars of serious jazz fans. Bird watchers may constitute a fanatical breed, blessed with encyclopedic knowledge, waiting patiently in their cabin in the woods. But serious jazz fans are a passionate lot as well. They spot a gem from miles away and will discuss the merit of the “birds” that play on the disc much in the manner of monks pondering over the words of Saint Augustine.

La Roca shared sideman duties on Village Vanguard with the developing genius of Elvin Jones. As the sole accompanist, however, there are plenty of top-notch features that serious jazz fans cough up effortlessy. He played on, for instance, George Russell’s cutting-edge The Outer View, Joe Henderson’s hard bop winner Page One, Jaki Byard’s far-out Hi-Fly, Slide Hampton’s soulful Sister Salvation and Art Farmer’s folk song gem To Sweden With Love.

La Roca recorded only three albums as a leader: Basra, Turkish Women At The Bath (Douglas 1967) and Swingtime (Blue Note 1997). La Roca – born Pete Sims, the pseudonym was made up after years of playing in Latin bands in his birthplace of New York City – was a taxi driver in the 70s. It’s a disgrace that fine black artists as La Roca had to resort to day (or night) jobs, however honorable the menial activity may be. But it must’ve been one swinging cab. La Roca subsequently attended law school at New York University and returned to jazz in 1979. He passed away in 2012 at age 74.

Basra and Turkish Women At The Bath are highly collectible artifacts, acclaimed albums for the wildly ecstatic ‘bird watchers’. With sound reason, it’s a hell of a couple of albums. Turkish Women is impressive experiment, terse complex groove and abstract painting, as much colored perhaps by Chick Corea than LaRoca, though, it must be said, La Roca wrote all originals. (It was released by Muse under Corea’s name as Bliss, which La Roca successfully fought in court) Basra is progressive mid-sixties Blue Note, on par with the records of Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, Jackie McLean, adventurous with a keen sense of the past. It’s a sleeper for the general audience, a winner for the birdwatchers. And it features a number of interesting feathered creatures: tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Steve Kuhn and bassist Steve Swallow.

Both Malaguena and Basra are one-chord (Spanish and Eastern-flavored) drones resting on the fantastic, loose-but-solid drumming from La Roca. Either the man’s got a hip approach to the snare drum or his engineers were in continuous top form, but I’ve heard a lot a awesome drums sounds from La Roca. His snare drum is the Crisp of Crispiness, a healthy slap in the face, cocky like a 42nd Street hustler and wide like the open spaces of East Texas. Joe Henderson is comfortable with the exotic groove, his patiently timed clusters of grunts, growls and bellows on the drone admirable. Henderson whirls lines around the chord like the way a snake charmer directs the movement of the reptile on the streets of Manila or Punjab. He really creeps deep into the vessels of the groove. Candu is loose-jointed blues, Tears Come From Heaven a crisp modal romp, Eiderdown a dark-hued Wayne Shorter-ish melody, Lazy Afternoon a piece of slow-moving ambience with a leading role for the impressionistic Steve Kuhn.

Sometimes the rebellious La Roca hits his polyrhythm as hard and wide as Elvin. Can you imagine?! It’s that kind of excellence and power driving Basra, coupled with the Rudy van Gelder touch, that has for many years now caused the bird watchers to drop their binoculars in awe.

Rhoda Scott - Live At The Key Club

The Rhoda Scott Trio Live! At The Key Club (Tru-Sound 1963)

Early in her career, organist Rhoda Scott brought down the house with unvarnished, r&b-drenched soul jazz.

Rhoda Scott - Live At The Key Club

Personnel

Rhoda Scott (organ, vocals), Joe Thomas (tenor saxophone, vocals), Bill Elliott (drums, vocals)

Recorded

in 1963 at The Key Club, Newark, New Jersey

Released

as TSLP 15014 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Hey-Hey-Hey!
Sha-Bazz
The Worksong
I-Yi-Yi-Yi
Side B:
Watermelon Man
Midnight Sun
Danny Boy
Lil Darlin’ (Intermission Theme)


Just as a soccer team needs a skilled ball breaker on the mid-field to let the star player shine, the jazz artist needs a producer that pulls the right strings. Ozzie Cadena was for Rhoda Scott what Johan Neeskens was to Johan Cruijff. Cadena, best known through his work for Prestige Records, presented Rhoda Scott with the idea of recording a live session at the Key Club in Newark, New Jersey. It was released on Cadena’s Tru-Sound label in 1963.

I love these slices of lively musical history that show you what soul jazz was really about during its heyday in the sixties. It was uplifting music at the intersection of jazz, rhythm-and-blues and soul, presented in tiny clubs or hotel bars and frequented by Afro-Americans. The crowd had a natural ball and appreciated good, meaningful music. Hip to the tip, so I’ve heard many survivors say, it might express equal admiration for Cannonball Adderley and Floyd Dixon, Jimmy Smith and Smokey Robinson. The artist was both star and, having a similar background, part of the pack. I’m not saying contemporary performers and crowds aren’t mutually responsive! But back then the cohesiveness of the black musical culture of the so-called chitlin’ circuit definitely was a peculiar, striking and intense phenomenon.

Rhoda Scott has all the makings of a high-class and soulful artist with a keen sense of the tastes of the audience. She grew up in Dorothy, New Jersey, the daughter of a minister and was naturally drawn to the church organ. Well-versed in the modern jazz style in the slipstream of Jimmy Smith, Scott got her first break in 1963 in New York with the support of Count Basie. She recorded two albums for Cadena’s Tru-Sound, Hey Hey Hey! in 1962 and Live At The Key Club in 1963 and extensively toured the chitlin’ circuit of the East and Midwest.

Scott eventually had other plans and settled in Paris, France in 1968. She had went to study with Nadia Boulanger in 1967 and upon a later return fell in love with actor/singer Raoul Saint-Yves, her future husband and producer until his passing in 2011. Her migration is undoubtedly the main reason that she is not as well known in the United States as many of her colleagues that recorded for Blue Note and Prestige. But it presented Scott with a new, responsive audience in Europe and a record label, Barclay, that gave the organist carte blanche. Scott’s approach of using the full sound spectrum of the Hammond organ was evident on her first album in France, Take A Ladder. Scott recorded prolifically for Barclay and Verve, among others. Plus The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (’76), Plus Kenny Clarke (’77), Negro Spirituals (’83) and From C To Shining C (’06, featuring tenor saxophonists Red Holloway and Plas Johnson, released on ‘organ professor’ Pete Fallico’s Doodlin’ label) are a couple of my favorite Rhoda Scott albums.

Scott’s style is a natural mix of modernism, gospel and blues. Throughout her career she has displayed an unwavering thirst for variation in sound, which by her own account “is not so much the result of different settings but the way I voice.” She will swing you into the ground Jimmy Smith-style but also conjures up sounds that work well as accompaniment to romantic walks along the Seine. Romance is not the first word that comes to mind when listening to the groovy and greasy Live At The Key Club, but Scott’s curiosity of the Hammond organ’s potential is already apparent.

The response of the crowd at the Key Club in Newark, New Jersey, bonafide soul jazz town, is frenzied, it most certainly is a rowdy bunch. Scott’s trio featuring tenor saxophonist/flutist Joe Thomas and drummer Bill Elliott presented a fun set. Scott’s r&b tunes Hey Hey Hey! and the gloriously raucous I-Yi-Yi-Yi please the audience much in the same way as Dee Dee Sharpe, Bob & Earl or James & Bobby Purify did. The trio sings as well and may not possess classic soul voices but its fire and enthusiasm is contagious. Elliott sings fair covers of Nat Adderley’s The Work Song and Mongo Santamaria’s Watermelon Man. Sha-Bazz is the set’s hefty, exotic groove, Danny Boy a lovely ballad and Lionel Hampton’s Midnight Sun – Jimmy Smith’s first single for Blue Note when the pioneer of modern jazz organ burst on the scene in 1956 – a sensitive moment of nostalgia. Throughout, Scott’s command of the organ is admirable, every sound, from thin, harsh to reverberating and orchestral, a means to build a meaningful and exciting little story.

Rhoda Scott is 81 years old. She still lives in France and has recently finished her thesis on the life and career of fellow expatriate, Lou Bennett. Her latest album, Movin’ Blues was released last January. See teaser (in French) here.

Woody Shaw - The Moontrane

Woody Shaw The Moontrane (Muse 1975)

Woody Shaw’s killer tune The Moontrane kick starts his namesake album on Muse, a sublime example of progressive mainstream jazz of the mid-70s.

Woody Shaw - The Moontrane

Personnel

Woody Shaw (trumpet), Azar Lawrence (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Steve Turre (trombone), Onaje Allen Gumbs (piano, electric piano), Cecil McBee (bass A2, B2), Buster Williams (bass A1, B1), Victor Lewis (drums), Guilherme Franco, Tony Waters (percussion)

Recorded

on 11 & 18 december, 1974 at Blue Rock Studios, New York City

Released

as MR 5058 in 1975

Track listing

Side A:
The Moontrane
Are They Only Dreams
Tapscott’s Blues
Side B:
Sanyas
Katerina Ballerina


Some have argued that the tragedy of Shaw’s life was the undervaluation of his genius. There’s truth in this statement. The name might ring a bell. But although Shaw won a Grammy Award for Rosewood in 1978, the average listener would never put Shaw, as far as trumpeters go, as the exclamation mark on the modern jazz sentence that begins with Dizzy Gillespie and is followed up by Clifford Brown and Miles Davis – Davis is part of the sentence not so much on a technical basis but because of his originality and vision. The average music fan has usually heard about legendary “subordinate clauses” like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Chet Baker. Probably even hardcore jazz fans have listened more to those three than Shaw. Shaw came on the scene in the sixties but matured as a leader in the 70s, the synthesized decade that is without the revolutionary spark of bebop or the monochrome charm of hard bop and not as conducive to myth-making.

We all have our favorites, even, and with justified reason, others than mentioned above. But the exclamation mark is set in bold type by fellow musicians, who have championed Shaw as ‘the last great innovator on trumpet’. Max Roach said he had never heard anybody like Shaw, who had perfect pitch, photographic memory and a simply God-given array of talents that hint at ‘high intelligence’ and definitely are proof of a highly gifted musical intellect that effortlessly incorporated avant-garde concepts as polytonality and modality in his style. Shaw is a bridge between the classic age of modern jazz and the young lions of the 80s, many of who are now middle-aged statesmen, like Bryan Lynch, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Wallace Roney, Valery Ponomarev and Jarmo Hoogendijk.

Let’s hear it from Michael West, NPR:

“Shaw was a virtuoso who restructured the way trumpet players move between long intervals, and wrote his own harmonic and melodic language using notes outside the chords (a technique known as “side-slipping”).”

And Doug Ramsey, Rifftides:

“Shaw reached a level of expressiveness, headlong linear development and freedom from post-bop conventions that was not only ahead of his time; this music from three and four decades ago is ahead of much of the rote, formulaic jazz of our time. (…) Shaw was at once a liberator of the music and a preserver of tradition.”

Ramsey’s assessment rings through when listening to the series of live CD sets (yuk but hey) that have been released over the years. Above all, his live performances from the 70s and early 80s showcase remarkable intensity and hi-voltage stories that surge ahead with unstoppable force like the subway train of The Taking Of The Pelham 123. At the same time nothing of Shaw’s elegance is lost. Then there’s his bright, tart tone, ringing clearly like the bells of St. Mark and his punchy attack, resembling the chutzpah of the strongest kid in class. Moreover, Shaw wrote a number of lasting tunes like Stepping Stones, Rosewood and Little Red’s Fantasy.

Maturity as a leader came late at the dawn of the 70s, but Shaw was already very active as a sideman in the sixties. He debuted on Eric Dolphy’s Iron Man and burst on the scene with his feature on the Blue Note classic album by organist Larry Young, Unity, for which the then 18-year old trumpeter wrote three compositions: Zoltan, Beyond Limits and The Moontrane. Talkin’ about lasting tunes! Shaw hit the hard bop mark as band member of the Horace Silver group. A session for Blue Note featuring Joe Henderson in 1965 was shelved. It was eventually released on Muse as In The Beginning in 1983. He kicked off his solo career in 1970 with the double LP Blackstone Legacy, a charged post-bop alternative for those that deem Bitches Brew languish. And indeed overrated. That includes yours truly.

At the tail end of 1974, Shaw recorded The Moontrane, aptly named after his unforgettable composition. It’s a cutting edge album, a hefty dose of mid-70s progressive jazz that in a sense owes much to the concept and passionate approach of John Coltrane. Oh how I would’ve loved to hear Shaw perform with Coltrane! Why wasn’t that in the stars? The stars would’ve been obscured by miraculous fireworks! On The Moontrane, Shaw is assisted by tenor and soprano saxophonist Azar Lawrence, definitely a fiery, Coltrane-influenced player, with a tad of Joe Henderson. Bon appetite. The band further includes trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs, bassists Buster Williams/Cecil McBee and drummer Victor Lewis. The trombone is the tart icing on the frontline cake, that bit of extra punch. The band is a flexible, flamboyant outfit perfectly suitable for Shaw’s challenging shenanigans.

The title track, The Moontrane, recorded 10 years after Larry Young’s Unity, is reclaimed beautifully by Shaw & Co. The exotic groove, Sanyas, is chockfull of highlights: the beautiful, Eastern-tinged introduction by bassist Buster Williams, slides and bends and all; the quaint blend of modernism and the gutsy feeling of the Ellington trombonists of Steve Turre; the plethora of flowing and staccato phrases by Shaw. Shaw’s continuously curious and surprising placing of notes puts you on the wrong foot and that’s a delight. His notes are like the pinches of the acupuncturist’s needle, a dead perfect stimulus.

Are They Only Dreams shifts from a lithe Latin beat to a Hancock/Corea-ish pulse, an apt ambience for Allen Onaje Gumbs, whose lines fall down on you like drops from a little waterfall. Katrina Ballerina is a lovely melody in waltz time. The tension is heightened by turbulent clusters of double timing by Shaw. The album is completed by Tapscott’s Blues, perhaps the only tune you do not desperately need to spin back to back, but a lively romp nonetheless. 1974 may not have been the best year in jazz. Right? Right! But Shaw definitely was keeping the flame burning.

At least, until the candlelight was blown out for him by The Gusty Wind in the 80s. Trumpeter Woody Shaw never returned home to Newark, New Jersey after visiting a performance of Max Roach at the Village Vanguard in New York City in November 1988. Turned out he was caught by a subway train, which severely injured his arm and head. His arm had to be amputated. After a long, partly comatose spell in the hospital, Shaw eventually passed away by the causes of kidney and heart failure on May 10, 1989. Shaw was 44 years old.

The Moontrane is not available on Spotify. (You see, general neglect!) However, the full album is available on YouTube, listen here.

Sal Nistico - Heavyweights

Sal Nistico Heavyweights (Jazzland 1962)

It may not have had widespread coverage, but Heavyweights was a thoroughly convincing declaration of independence by tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico.

Sal Nistico - Heavyweights

Personnel

Sal Nistico (tenor saxophone), Nat Adderley (cornet), Barry Harris (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Walter Perkins (drums)

Recorded

on December 20, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City

Released

as JLP 66 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Mamblue
Seconds, Anyone
My Old Flame
Shoutin’
Side B:
Just Friends
Au Privave
Heavyweights


During a conversation with fellow tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes in 1966, Sal Nistico said: “A lot of cats put down bebop, and they say it’s old and it’s dated, but that music’s not easy – It’s a challenge to play.”

The debut album of Nistico, 1962’s Heavyweights, made it sound easy, always a feat of accomplished players. When Heavyweights was recorded on December 20, 1961, Nistico, born in Syracuse, New York in 1941, had just left the Jazz Brothers Band of Chuck and Gap Mangione, which he had been part of since 1959. Nistico would come into prominence in Woody Herman’s Herd from 1962 to 1965. Nistico, who would furthermore play and record with Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Curtis Fuller, Dusko Goykovich, Hod ‘O Brien, Stan Tracey, Frank Strazzeri, Rein de Graaff and Chet Baker, enjoyed regular stints with Herman throughout his career, that came to an end with his passing in 1991 in Bern, Switzerland.

The strong line-up of Heavyweights furthermore consists of cornetist Nat Adderley, pianist Barry Harris, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Walter Perkins. The ensembles of Nistico and Adderley are fresh drops of water from the Spa source. Nistico is a hot, strong player, meanwhile keeping clarity of line, keeping the beat at a slightly laid-back pace, fiery and emotional yet convinced too of the power of understatement. Nat Adderley, very successful with the funky soul jazz work of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1961, knows his bop, adding a delightful tad of sleaze to it with the muted sound of his cornet. Barry Harris, as always, is both magnificent as accompanist and soloist, contributing a number of masterful, Monk-ish statements.

Kickstarted by a fantastic mambo tune – Mamblue by Barry Harris – Heavyweights gracefully carries on the tradition of bebop, particularly Charlie Parker. The group performs Parker’s blues Au Privave, as well as My Old Flame and Just Friends, standards that are immortalized by Parker. Nistico’s Second’s, Anyone is a catchy bop line and Tommy Turrentine’s Shoutin’ a solid uptempo bebop performance. The unusual structure of the title tune, Heavyweights, penned by Frank Pullara, is reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s unique work. It’s a beautiful melody.

Straight-ahead excellence.

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet - Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet Clifford Brown & Max Roach (EmArcy 1954)

One of the must-haves. Clifford Brown & Max Roach is a brilliant, textbook example of balanced storytelling, responsive interplay and vital, fluent swing.

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet - Clifford Brown & Max Roach

Personnel

Clifford Brown (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Richard Powell (piano), George Morrow (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Recorded

on August 2, 3 & 6, 1954 at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles

Released

as MC 26043 in 1954

Track listing

Side A:
Delilah
Parisian Thoroughfare
Side B:
Daahoud
Joy Spring
Jordu


Straight from the short-lived 10-inch era of the early/mid-fifties, Clifford Brown & Max Roach. Five tunes, two instant classics and standards, 30 minutes of sizzling, masterful modern jazz. What more could one ask for? If you can’t say it in a mere half hour, you better cut it out… To be sure, when EmArcy switched to the 12-inch format in the slipstream of bigger labels like Columbia, three tunes of the August 1954 session were added. Max Roach and rising trumpet star Clifford Brown initially formed a quintet with, respectively, Sonny Stitt and Teddy Edwards.

The quintet finally gelled into a subtle, driving cooperative unit with Harold Land, who was relatively unknown at that time but immediately made his name through his excellent work with Brown/Roach. Finally, Land was followed up by Sonny Rollins, who completed a notorious outfit that came to its abrupt end in 1956 when Clifford Brown and pianist Richard Powell were tragically killed in a car crash.

The stays of some jazz legends on planet Earth were cut short much too soon. Charlie Christian, Scott LaFaro and… Clifford Brown. But the impact of these searchers for new vistas has been penetrating and everlasting. Clifford Brown displayed a balanced vitality that is rarely if ever matched. He transformed tragedy into a smile. His music comes out cleanly and gaily through his horn. Bit of a heir to Louis Armstrong, if you ask me… A bittersweetly happy, completely authoritative virtuoso. The Crown Prince, if you will.

Max Roach was thirty years old at the time of recording Clifford Brown & Max Roach, veteran of bop that took the revolutionary rudiments of Kenny Clarke and fulfilled the quintet format with Charlie Parker, a blaze of new accents, motives, melodicism. He’s the glue of the quintet, which delivers an unusual brew of virility, balance and fluent swing. Once Delilah is underway for barely one minute, you know you’re in for a treat. As in a bee colony, proceedings go as planned, there’s a definite sense of order while all members dart this and that way frivolously and seemingly at random. Roach succinctly supports the movement of the changes, Morrow and Powell provide the solid framework for the soloists, a simultaneously smooth and driving flow and a paradise for Harold Land, who takes a wonderful first shot, simultaneously at ease and insistent.

Clifford Brown is the queen bee. Daahoud is his habitat. Daahoud was an instant classic. Uptempo bouncing ball… A wave of fresh air, springtime breeze accompanying the swarm of bees at the country farm… Clifford Brown is the frivolous bee, giving birth to lean flights in the upper register that serve as the apex of a brilliant package of honey notes, deceptively simple, fluent phrasing, relentless swing that makes us very… happy. His attack is ferocious yet smooth. The ideas keep coming. Brown plays a Socrates-que discours of question and answer with himself and talks shop with his partners, intuitively, a game of hi-level split seconds. Max Roach hits the pocket almost Blakey-style, a kick start to the soloist’s story on the one hand, a crash cymbal bash to signal the next in line on the other hand.

Talkin’ about Spring. Joy Spring cannot be left unmentioned. The other instant classic, the lovely melody that Clifford Brown wrote for his wife, nicknamed “Joy Spring”. Don’t you want to be called Joy Spring? Joy Spring, you’re the sweetest… Joy Spring, dinner is ready!… Joy Spring, I warmed your spot, please come on up… None of that seven-year itch with husband and Joy Spring! The mid-tempo, relaxed bounce underlines Brown’s affectionate, sweet but tart words of love.

Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare offers more vital features by Brown and Roach, whose effective simplicity as a soloist is admirable. Roach plays like a horn player. Richard Powell, brother of Bud, hooks up with the strikingly boogie-woogie-ish drive of the bop anthem. The quintet rounds off the 10inch platter with Duke Jordan’s contagious blues-based Jordu, a version as lovely and enticing as a Lotus flower. It is as if these men contaminated each other with the fever of nuanced storytelling, virile swing, fluidity, ideas… Clifford Brown And Max Roach is a very “ill” album indeed! Not to mention “dope” or “master” or whatever youngsters call spectacular these days. Something I’m not aware of I’m sure. I’m old-fashioned and I don’t mind it…

Jimmy Smith - Root Down

Jimmy Smith Root Down (Verve 1972)

Organist Jimmy Smith had been preoccupied with funk jazz before, but none of his releases matched Root Down, released on Verve in 1972.

Jimmy Smith - Root Down

Personnel

Jimmy Smith (organ), Arthur Adams (guitar), Steve Williams (harmonica A3), Wilton Felder (bass), Buck Clarke (congas), Paul Humphrey (drums)

Recorded

on February 8, 1972 at the Bombay Bicycle Club, Los Angeles.

Released

as V-8806 in 1972

Track listing

Side A:
Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow
For Everyone Under The Sun
After Hours
Side B:
Root Down (And Get It)
Let’s Stay Together
Slow Down Sagg


By 1972, Jimmy Smith, the modern organ jazz pioneer who had been the most popular Hammond B3 player from his explosive start on Blue Note in 1956, was still ridin’ high. He was the biggest seller among his colleagues and toured the European circuit to much acclaim, notably the Montreux Jazz Festival. But none of his late sixties albums contained the grit and grease that was so essential to the output of the rivaling company, the independent Prestige Records, a style that was developed by the special talents of groove monsters like Charles Earland, Charles Kynard, Rusty Bryant, Idris Muhammad and Bernard Purdie. The Champ was challenged and a good fight was on.

And Root Down, recorded live on February 8 at the Bombay Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, was devoid of sucker punches. There were no bicycle races that night either. It was more like a gathering of tonewheels on the outskirts of town. Burning metal, lightning fast drawbars, bass pedals crossing the finishing line with the street crowd going berserk… Arthur Adams was featured on guitar, Steve Williams on harmonica, Wilton Felder on bass, Paul Humphrey on drums and Buck Clarke on percussion. A rock-solid, charged group that pushed maestro Smith to the edge of the circuit, an inch away from the bales of hay, which is the place where the best works of arts are usually created.

Let’s jam, y’all, let’s jam. This is music that speaks to the gut and the groin. The uptempo funk blues of Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow, Root Down (famously – or infamously depending on your view – sampled by The Beastie Boys in 1994) and Slow Down Sagg stimulates Smith to travel beyond his trademark style. Here Smith, who stands on the shoulders of the blues pianists, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Wild Bill Davis, allows his long lines to segue into stretches of dissonance. His pitch is unwavering, his attack ferocious. Smith’s lurid funk tales are commented upon by the blistering wah-wah guitar of Arthur Adams. Fire meets fire.

Smith hurls himself into the notes of the soul tunes For Everyone Under The Sun and Al Green’ Let’s Stay Together like a tiger on a deer. Adams’ spiky (non-wah-wah) stuff mirrors The Meters’ indelible New Orleans Funk picker, Leo Nocentelli, albeit less behind the beat, more speedy. The tandem of drummer Paul Humphrey and bassist Wilton Felder bounces but never wobbles, makes myriad U-turns but never gets lost. Felder, saxophonist and co-leader of the successful funk jazz and crossover group The Crusaders in everyday life, offers a solo that is well worthwhile.

A great show in the hip pocket of Jimmy Smith. The atmosphere is electric. Obviously, the music reaches out beyond the confines of the Bombay Bicycle Club. Smith and his relatively younger lions are talkin’ to the boyz in da hood, who loved and understood the messages of Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron. Root Down is ghetto music, it’s Watts on fire and wax, a victory of rhythm miles away from the tepid world of Ed Sullivan. The astounding grit that the group displayed crawled out of the womb of the asphalt jungle, over depressed tenement buildings, mingles with addicts that crowd around fire pits at night… Root Down’s a reflection of turmoil but at the same time a display of force, a celebration of survival, and offers redemption in the form of smooth and sweaty soul that pinned Marvin Gaye to the wall and forced him to say sorry for that sexual healing bit.

Victory is all over the sleeve as well. The stretched arm and pointed finger clearly signify who’s boss!

The original album cut down the longer tracks to the 12inch format. Spotify offers the CD version with the complete performances. Listen below.