The Jazztet And John Lewis

The Jazztet The Jazztet And John Lewis (Argo 1961)

The coupling of John Lewis, the king of chamber jazz music, as a composer and arranger with The Jazztet in 1958 wasn’t as strange as it looked on the surface. Although co-leaders Benny Golson and Art Farmer lead a cookin’ hard bop ensemble, it was acknowledged for its elegant tunes and meticulous arrangements. The smart arrangements of Lewis fit The Jazztet like a glove. Yet I’m sure that Lewis had not foreseen that the group would deliver the hardest swinging version of Django ever put on wax.

The Jazztet And John Lewis

Personnel

Benny Golson (tenor saxophone), Art Farmer (trumpet), Tom McIntosh (trombone), Cedar Walton (piano), Tommy Williams (bass), Albert Heath (drums), John Lewis (composer, arranger)

Recorded

on December 20 & 21, 1960 and January 9, 1961 at Nola’s Penthouse Studio, NYC

Released

as Argo 684 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Bel
Milano
Django
New York 19
Side B:
2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West
Odds Against Tomorrow


Lewis, the leader of the amazingly popular Modern Jazz Quartet, always had to tolerate a lot of vitriol. Jazz policemen condemned the group’s stiff concert hall appearances, deeming their hybrid of jazz, classical and third stream music unappropriate, often meaning decidedly ‘unblack’. They hated to see Lewis put the ball and chain on vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who was supposedly bereft of his sparkling blues playing.

If you’re as controversial as John Lewis, you’re bound to be at the right track.

Things were not that simple in the real world, outside policing dreamland. Charles Mingus worked with the ‘suite’-concept regularly. Bud Powell played and incorporated Bach. Many hard boppers had received thorough formal training. And in spite of their classical approach, the elaborate themes of Lewis and pristine solo’s of Jackson revealed their firm roots in bebop and blues.

Hank Mobley’s my main man but is that a reason to put the lid on MJQ? Of course not. My doctor advised me to take it in small doses, though. I once tried to spin MJQ albums back to back while working nine to five at home, but around 2 o’clock I started suffering from an annoying itch all over my body and a mildly disconcerting shudder of the pancreas.

All tunes except Bel were from the MJQ book. Lewis wrote Bel especially for The Jazztet And John Lewis. It’s a sweeping opening statement, consisting of a theme of staccato horn stabs that work like melodious claxons: here’s The Jazztet! The three-horn line-up sounds tremendously powerful. Its propulsive, brassy interludes coupled with the cracklin’ rolls by Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath catapult the soloists into fervent motion.

Django has the same virile, robust edge. It’s taken at a faster tempo than usual, and it’s pandemonium from there. The great asset of Django beside the glorious melody – the tension-release section – is played out by the group to full effect, inspiring Golson and Farmer to the core. It seems Farmer can’t wait as he enthousiastically announces himself at the end of Golson’s solo, weaving in and out of Golson’s sublime, understated swinging statements before his own swift, suave contribution. Another immaculate solo is by Cedar Walton, who plays very fluently in a bag that suggests the influence of both Bud Powell and Bill Evans.

Pastoral tunes like Milano and New York 19 benefit from the warm, breathy sound of Golson and the lyrical style of Farmer. They’ve got plenty of serene background harmony to work with. Odds Against Tomorrow, a composition that Lewis wrote for the movie of the same name (a Robert Wise crime flick from 1959 starring Harry Belafonte), is typical MJQ. Its slow, melancholy introduction, held together by a can’t-get-out-of-your-head four note figure, fugues into an effortlessly swinging, Ellingtonian mid-tempo movement, buoyantly introduced by Art Farmer. The tune returns to a slow outro, leaving us bucked and satiated.

Lewis’ stylish blues tune, 2 Degrees East, 3 Degrees West, is the right material for The Jazztet. Golson tackles the mid-tempo groove with flurries of glorious, off-centre notes. Trombonist Tom McIntosh (a fine arranger in his own right), less virtuosic and imaginative than his forerunner in the Jazztet, Curtis Fuller, contributes a more swing-type solo with an attractive, round, soothing tone.

Musically, it’s a superb album. Production-wise, it’s splendid as well. My copy is on the Dutch Funkler label, released in the same year as the Prestige original. The overall sound is sprightly and upfront. The fat, ‘together’ sound of drums and bass is a gas. Tommy Nola and Kay Norton of Nola’s Sound Studio in NYC did an outstanding job.

John Lewis and The Jazztet did an outstanding job, upping the ante as far as bringing swing to thoroughly written-out material is concerned.

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.

Pat Martino - Strings

Pat Martino Strings! (Prestige 1967)

I’ve been on the lookout for snippets of Pat Martino ever since my college years. Once there was a guy in college who asked me about my favorite jazz guitar players. When I mentioned that one of them was Pat Martino the guy, a sophomore guitarist, sneered: “O, that single-line player.” I’m glad I’ve never seen that guy since, I need him as a hole in the head. He’s probably drooling over the umteenth remastering of Kind Of Blue. So very sound.

Pat Martino - Strings

Personnel

Pat Martino (guitar), Joe Farell (tenor saxophone, flute), Cedar Walton (piano), Ben Tucker (bass), Walter Perkins (drums), Ray Appleton, Dave Levin (percussion A1)

Recorded

on October 2, 1967 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7547 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
Strings
Minority
Side B:
Lean Years
Mom
Querido


Naturally, Mr. Kind Of Blue had every right to his own particular tastes. Yet, in denouncing Martino as merely a player with a ‘lineair conception’, he obviously was oblivious to the emotional effect of Martino’s approach; and furthermore traded objective critique for subjectivism. Because surely it would be hard to find a Pat Martino record or side date on which the single-line maestro omits Wes Montgomery-style octave playing.

It’s there on Strings!, Martino’s second album on Prestige in 1967; particularly in Minority, Gigi Gryce’s Impressions-type composition, a driving piece in which Martino’s pyrotechnical, flowing statements create a whirlwind of ecstatic feelings. And pianist Cedar Walton is in fine enough form to follow this up with perhaps a just as impressive solo.

One would expect a breather after this, but what follows in the footsteps of Minority, Lean Years, is the same type of tune, but less interesting compositionally, and a bit crudely formed. It doesn’t seduce us enough to take heed of the solo’s.

Two more originals encompass the start and finish of the guitarist’s endearing follow-up to his debut on Prestige El Hombre. Opener and title track Strings! is a real treat. It consists of a smooth, effective Latin rhythm made up off drums and percussion and a joyful theme flavoured with thrilling breaks, stated by Joe Farrell’s flute and Martino’s guitar, that intelligently alternates between licks and chords. Reedman Farrell proves to be a proficient flutist and Martino an astute improviser, not interested in virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake, but instead in what it brings about as concerned to feeling.

Strings! is the most enjoyable tune of the album, but Querido, the last track, has the same Latin-American atmosphere and is also worthwhile. Mom is a slow mood piece that basically revolves around three chords, in which not much is happening until the third minute, when Martino follows up ebullient romantic with hard speed phrases. Other ballad work of Martino of this kind comes to mind, such as his contribution to Embraceable You from Don Patterson’s Four Dimensions. Martino’s comprehension of balladry is striking.

Early Martino was a striking period. With or without single lines.

YouTube: Strings

Chocomotive

Houston Person Chocomotive (Prestige 1965)

For a session from 1967, Chocomotive sounds curiously anachronistic. Its sound is vaguely reminiscent of the era of Lionel Hampton. It has its rocking moments and therefore was probably as attractive for the r&b and popular music crowd as were his other recordings of the period. However, although Person recorded for years with organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith, arguably he was in the proces of searching for the funky form (and format) that would see him play on a number of excellent organ and soul jazz releases and a couple of high profile side dates in the late sixties and early seventies.

Chocomotive

Personnel

Houston Person (tenor sax), Cedar Walton (piano), Alan Dawson (vibraharp), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Frankie Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 14, 1967 in NYC

Released

as PR 7517 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
Chocomotive
You’re Gonna Hear From Me
Close Quarters
Girl Talk
Side B:
Since I Fell For You
Up, Up And Away
More


Houston Person plays a tough, spirited tenor, but often sounds detached from his sidemen. Chocomotive is something of a mixed bag and these guys generally jump off the saddle as cowboys without kettle. There is some nice balladry, Chocomotive has a rollicking Louis Jordan-type jive beat, but doesn’t really go anywhere, and a eccentric take on psychedelic movie tune More (of Pink Floyd fame) promises more than it delivers.

Alan Dawson, first and foremost a drummer, acts as a admirable vibraharp player, but hearing him handling the sticks himself would perhaps have been better attuned to this project. Cedar Walton, a gifted pianist who already had dates with Art Blakey, Max Roach and Art Farmer on his resume, ‘arpeggioes’ his way through blues ballad Since I Fell For You. The Fifth Dimension’s Up, Up And Away is the album’s most exciting melody, supported by a supreme Latin beat. It’s clearly in everyone’s bag. Finally the album takes off.