Clifford Jordan - Leadbelly

Clifford Jordan These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Leadbelly (Atlantic 1965)

The Mosaic label, whose policy of re-issueing and uncovering vaults has been so essential in keeping the flame of classic jazz burning, shed a welcome light last year on tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, releasing a box set of six adventurous albums Jordan produced and recorded in the late sixties and early seventies on Strata-East, among them Jordan’s career-defining 1973 album Glass Bead Games. Jordan’s career included other rewarding efforts, like These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Leadbelly, Jordan’s sole album on Atlantic. It’s a surprise act, a wicked dedication to the roots of black musical culture.

Clifford Jordan - Leadbelly

Personnel

Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone), Roy Burrowes (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), Cedar Walton (piano), Chuck Wayne (banjo), Richard Davis (bass), Albert Heath (drums), Sandra Douglas (vocals A3, B3)

Recorded

on February 1 & 17, 1965 in NYC

Released

as SD 1444 in 1965

Track listing

Side A
Dick’s Holler
Silver City Bound
Take This Hammer
Black Betty
The Highest Mountain
Side B
Good Night Irene
De Gray Goose
Jolly ‘O The Ransom
Yellow Gal


Jordan hailed from Chicago, hometown of hard-driving, so-called ‘tough tenorists’ like Gene Ammons and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis. While Jordan shared their unnerving bravado, his tone is different, an alluring tone, simultaneously rough around the edges and ephemeral. A sought-after sideman, Jordan recorded with stalwarts as Lee Morgan and Max Roach in the late fifties and early sixties, as well as a series of high standard solo albums. Much acclaimed hard bop favorites are Blowing In From Chicago (Blue Note, 1957, with John Gilmore) and Cliff Craft (Blue Note, 1957) Like age matures wine, Jordan’s style ripened in the early seventies, his lines becoming fluent like ripples of lake water. Jordan kept recording and performing steadily until his death in 1993.

Maybe this album, filled with interpretations of such classic tunes as Take This Hammer and Goodnight Irene, is not such a surprise act after all. The preceding year, Jordan had been part of Charles Mingus’ outfit (appearing on the hi-voltage live album Right Now: Live At The Jazz Workshop) Musical gobbler Mingus’ unfazed search for new vistas while retaining an all-embracing sense of the past’s relevance and blend of harmonic finesse with unbridled juke joint tumult surely rubbed off on Jordan.

Da Gray Goose is one of the cases in point. Tasteful harmony over the stop-time theme kicks it into action, strongly plucked bass and fiery drums inspire the soloists, creating an atmosphere of abandon. Lusty shout choruses stoke up the fire as the tune progresses. There are also some, yes, virtuoso banjo parts.

The gloomy folk blues music of Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter, whose life story reads like a combined effort of Shakespeare and James Baldwin, including oppression, hardship, addiction, treachery, murder and prison life, is excellently cast in a jazz frame. But not too jazzy, often the sound of Jordan’s top-notch group is as tough-as-nails as the sound of any one group that enlivened the back alley bars way back when. Jordan’s unpredictable phrasing overcomes the restrictions of the rigid folk blues form.

Craftily uncrafted, These Are My Roots is a spirited album of earnest, raw and ebullient swing.

John Coltrane - Lush Life

John Coltrane Lush Life (Prestige 1957/58/1961)

When Prestige released the mid ‘57/early ’58 sessions that comprise Lush Life in 1961, John Coltrane, ever the restless seeker, had already moved into very different directions. But that doesn’t take anything away from the great material contained within these sides.

John Coltrane - Lush Life

Personnel

John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet B1), Red Garland (piano B1-2), Earl May (bass A1-3), Art Taylor A1-3), Paul Chambers (bass B1-2), Louis Hayes (drums B1), Albert Heath (B2)

Recorded

on May 31 & August 16, 1957 and January 10, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7188

Track listing

Side A:
Like Someone In Love
I Love You
Trane’s Slo Blues
Side B:
Lush Life
I Hear A Rhapsody


Coltrane had gained recognition and notoriety with his second stint with the Miles Davis Quintet and the recordings of Giant Steps and My Favorite Things on Atlantic. Prestige, eager to capitalise on Coltrane’s fame, released a string of LP’s up to 1965 containing material from the vaults. (Other tracks of the May/August ’57 and January ’58-sessions were released on Coltrane and The Last Trane) At the time of the Lush Life-sessions, people were still catching their breath after Coltrane’s tenures with Miles Davis (the first tenure) and Thelonious Monk, and after the recording of the classic hard bop album Blue Train.

Regardless of Lush Life’s haphazard nature, it includes a number of interesting and exciting moments, as one might expect from someone of Coltrane’s calibre. A great moment is the way Coltrane imaginatively deals with the straightforward chord sequence of Trane’s Slow Blues, wringing notes out of his tenor the way wrestlers tend to do with each other’s torso. Art Taylor’s insistent beat and Earl May’s big-sounding bass constitute a perfect vehicle for Coltrane’s forceful style. Included as well is a spirited stop-time section.

The other two trio tunes on side A lack dynamic rhythm work and Earl May’s bass sounds a bit muddy. But Coltrane turns Like Someone In Love inside out, utilizing melodic inversions (opening the tune with the bridge, in true bebop fashion, is just the starter) and cluster bombs of notes typical of early Coltrane. Furthermore, I Love You is a tale with beautiful lines and firmly placed blue notes. There wasn’t a particular artistic strategy to leave out the piano for this date, as Joe Goldberg states in the liner notes. The reality was prosaic: the piano player didn’t show up. The absentee probably was either Red Garland or Mal Waldron, frequent early Coltrane collaborators.

Red Garland is part of the other session, which resulted in a haunting rendition of Lush Life, in which the rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Louis Hayes responds well to Coltrane’s changes of mood, and a hard-swinging version of I Hear A Rhapsody. Young lion Donald Byrd, Coltrane’s sideman on this session, feels at home in the charged atmosphere of the reworked standard and his phrases have a floating quality not unlike the trumpeter that influenced many of the modern young trumpeters, Fats Navarro.

Prestige didn’t have the decency to consult Coltrane in the matters of organising a record release. However, as both a longtime Coltrane fan and vinyl freak, I’m glad those ‘crumbs’ of Coltrane saw the light of day in 1961. I’m not disputing the merit of listening to remastered jazz albums on that tiny, horrible absurdity they call the compact disc. Moreover, vinyl re-issues are pleasant commodities. But the vintage vinyl experience is priceless. The chills and feelings of surprise aroused by the crackling mono LP sounds of Trane’s Slow Blues still reverberate after all these years. Imagine what groundbreaking cuts like My Favorite Things (from My Favorite Things) and Dahomey’s Dance (from Ole) do to one’s nervous system. I guess you can.