McCoy Tyner - Today And Tomorrow

McCoy Tyner Today And Tomorrow (Impulse 1964)

McCoy Tyner picked Brother Elvin and a bunch of interesting, first-class colleagues for his fourth album as a leader, Today And Tomorrow, arguably his most varied Impulse recording.

McCoy Tyner - Today And Tomorrow

Personnel

McCoy Tyner (piano), Thad Jones (trumpet A1, A3, B2), John Gilmore (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Strozier (alto saxophone A1, A3, B2), Butch Warren (bass A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Garrison (A2, B1, B3), Elvin Jones (drums A1, A3, B2), Albert Heath (drums A2, B1, B3)

Recorded

on June 3, 1963 (A2, B1, B3) and Februari 4, 1964 (A1, A3, B2) at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as Impulse A-63 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Contemporary Focus
Night In Tunesia
T ‘N’ A Blues
Side B:
Autumn Leaves
Three Flowers
When Sunny Gets Blue


Perhaps The Real McCoy is pianist McCoy Tyner’s greatest achievement as a leader. The Blue Note album, released in 1967, certainly is a perennial favorite for many fans and musicians alike. On a series of inventive and ‘meaningfully simple’ modal pieces, Tyner’s whirlwind style was totally synced with the interaction between Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. The album’s emotional directness goes straight to the gut. It’s got that something. However, the discography of Tyner is filled with hi-level gems. For all their boisterous dips into scales and dynamic voicings, most of them in fact have a conservative touch, as if the pianist took a breather from the intense wrestling match with Coltrane, whose famous quartet Tyner was part of from 1960 to 1965. Titles like Plays Ellington and Nights Of Ballads And Blues offer evident clues. Obviously, Today And Tomorrow, Tyner’s fourth album on Impulse, also finds Tyner realizing his indebtedness to the tradition. At the same time, the pianist revels in his ongoing search for new lands.

The album is divided between tunes with a trio and sextet line-up. The trio includes drummer Albert Heath, the sextet Elvin Jones, his friend from the Coltrane group. Tyner and Jones lock tight, the interaction of Tyner’s hefty voicings and the pushing-and-pulling rhythm of Jones on the modal blast Contemporay Focus is unbelievable. Contemporary Focus comes close to the energy of, say, Coltrane’s Crescent or Art Blakey’s Free For All. How’s that for spirit? The sidemen on Contemporary Focus, T ‘N’ A Blues and Three Flowers, the latter a beautiful melody that dances like a surfer on the waves of Butch Warren’s waltz figure and the contrasting polyrhythm of Elvin Jones, are Thad Jones, John Gilmore and Frank Strozier. Differing textures mingle, each one, Thad Jones’ snappy, balanced trumpet playing, John Gilmore’s soothing and refreshing mix of blues and space oddities, and Frank Strozier’s fervent twists and turns on the alto, equally distinct.

Whether in small or larger ensembles, McCoy is McCoy, all colorful strokes like Van Gogh high on absinthe. Underlined by a dense chordal labyrinth, his rather otherworldly technique creates patterns resembling the running of water, his right hand lines high on the keyboard flowing like cool water that splashes and gurgles its way through the narrow channels of a rocky river, and develops into cascading waterfalls before you can say ‘awesome’. Too much? Can’t breathe? Not taking away anything from Tyner’s unmatched gift, I can imagine. It may just be me. Regardless, there’s a balance of flamboyance and romance in McCoy Tyner’s playing that will intrigue listeners till kingdom come.

Of the trio recordings, Night In Tunesia stands out. Albert Heath’s brush playing is meaty, swift, rivaling the unforgettable mastery that Elvin Jones regularly displayed, notably on Tommy Flanagan’s Overseas. You can see Tootie sitting behind the kit, body erect, arms slightly moving along with the swift wrist that is doing the job so expertly. Today And Tomorrow is a masterclass in musical excellence, intense stuff. A rather indistinct title but a major league McCoy Tyner album.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Benny Green Soul Stirrin’ (Blue Note 1599)

Of the invariably soulful albums from trombonist Benny Green, Soul Stirrin’, with the heavyweight line up of Gene Ammons, Billy Root, Sonny Clark and Elvin Jones, is arguably his finest effort.

Benny Green - Soul Stirrin'

Personnel

Benny Green (trombone), Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Billy Root (tenor saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Ike Isaacs (bass), Elvin Jones (drums), Babs Gonzalez (vocals A1, A2,)

Recorded

on April 28, 1958 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 1599 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


Benny Green is like that friendly uncle who always takes you aside at a family gathering, stuffing a couple of bucks into your pocket, ‘here kid, go buy yourself some candy.’ Green’s playing is accessible, uplifting, his phrases smack of smoke-filled back rooms, where burly whisky drinkers throw dirty jokes to the other end of the card table. His altogether very deft, modern style retains a lurid sense of old-timey swing, which places him at the other end of the spectrum opposite pioneer J.J. Johnson. His tone is tart, a lovely blast of fresh air.

By 1958, Green’s experience consisted of a decade spent in the bands of Earl Hines and Charlie Ventura. He had worked and recorded with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Criss, Hank Mobley and Randy Weston. Green was up for his second Blue Note album, following Back On The Scene and a slew of releases on Prestige onwards from 1951.

Not only did Green have aboard Ammons, Root, Clark, bassist Ike Isaacs and Jones, the bop poet and songwriter Babs Gonzalez also put his best foot forward, providing two melodies. Throughout the album, there are ample examples that justify the title. It’s a spirited, blues-drenched affair. There’s the sparse, precise riffing behind the soloists in We Wanna Cook, an uptempo, twelve-bar blues swinger, reminiscent of the Count Basie cookers, and also marked by Papa Jo Jones-style drumming by Elvin Jones. The same procedures – saxes spurring on trombone – mark the title track, absolutely the best tune of the album, a heated Blues March-type groove, albeit a bit slower. Babs Gonzalez hums the melody, the soloists take off, Gene Ammons especially commanding, on top of his game, blowing long wailing notes, coupled with sparse, melodic bop figures, a wall of sound from The Boss.

Gonzalez’ Lullaby Of The Doomed, Round Midnight-ish, is a breather. B.G. Mambo’s fat-bottomed theme jumps and jives, but turns into a rather pedestrian, straightforward 4/4 rhythm. Sonny Clark’s introspective side comes to the fore in Lullaby, his accompaniment on the album is spicy, he turns a beat here, injects a persuasive bass note further away from the sequence there, continuing to hold momentum all the way. Perhaps the mutual understanding of Green, Ammons and Root, who played together earlier in their careers, contribute to the album’s coherent soul groove. Billy Root, rather the mystery man of this set, a great, hard-swinging player, had a more imposing career than most people probably realize, most of the time spent as a sideman. He played with John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Stan Kenton, Lucky Thompson, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. Check out an enlightening interview of the candid Root with guest writer Gordon Jack on the great Jazz Profiles website of Steven Cerra here.

When listening to Black Pearl, you will notice that it closely resembles Black Pearls – with the added ‘s’ – from John Coltrane’s album Black Pearls. Soul Stirrin’ was recorded on April 28, 1958. Black Pearls – released as a profitable afterthought by Prestige in 1964 when Coltrane had long since moved to Atlantic and Impulse – is recorded on May 23, 1958. So Bennie beat ‘Trane to a month. The liner notes to Soul Stirrin’ say: ‘The program is completed with Black Pearl penned by sax man Bill Graham.’ However, Coltrane’s album credits not Graham but John Coltrane as composer. Did Coltrane nick a tune? Aficionados on the in-depth Organissimo website suggested that Graham’s credit got lost, it was then registered as unknown, and subsequently assigned to Coltrane. Apparently, Coltrane remembered the nice melody, picking it for that wonderful session with Donald Byrd, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor. Organissimo adds the fact that the tune is registered to Graham in The Coltrane Reference, the Bible of Coltrane facts. Recognition after all for Bill Graham, born 1918, a relatively unknown saxophonist who warrants more than a few words in another time and place. To be sure, Black Pearl is another one of the tunes making sure Soul Stirrin’s a keeper.

Elvin Jones And Richard Davis - Heavy Sounds

Elvin Jones And Richard Davis Heavy Sounds (Impulse 1967)

Heavy sounds and heavy smoke rings. Elvin Jones and Richard Davis obviously enjoyed each other’s company. Above all, they’re having fun on an extremely high musical level.

Elvin Jones And Richard Davis - Heavy Sounds

Personnel

Elvin Jones (drums, guitar B2), Richard Davis (bass), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1-3, B1, B3), Billy Greene (piano A1, A3, B2, B3)

Recorded

on June 19 & 20, 1967 at RCA Recording Studio, NYC

Released

as AS-9160 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Raunchy Rita
Shiny Stockings
M.E.
Side B:
Summertime
Elvin’s Guitar Blues
Here’s That Rainy Day


Amonth later, the moods darkened considerably. Heavy Sounds was recorded on June 19 & 20, 1967. John Coltrane, Elvin’s associate from the legendary, groundbreaking John Coltrane Quartet, passed away on July 17, 1967. During his tenure with Coltrane, Jones had already recorded occasionally. Elvin! (Riverside 1961) and Dear John C. (Impulse 1965) are notable albums. In 1966, Jones allegedly felt uncomfortable with Coltrane’s new rhythmic settings that included drummer Rashied Ali and quit the band.

Enormous potential besides the magnitudinous presence of Elvin Jones. Richard Davis is one of the most virtuosic bassists of the classic jazz era, arguably the most proficient. A brilliant musician who also took care of business in symphony orchestras, having performed with Igor Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez and Leonard Bernstein. A versatile player who was an asset on straightforward jazz dates but shined particularly bright on adventurous recordings like those of Andrew Hill (Black Fire, Judgment, Point Of Departure), Eric Dolphy (Out To Lunch), Kenny Dorham (Trompeta Toccata) and Jaki Byard. (Freedom Together!) and who likes to stray from the root, incorporating mesmerising sliding effects in the process. Other giants of bass like Ray Brown and Paul Chambers may hold the advantage over Davis as far as the pocket and glueing together the different sounds of a group is concerned but flying through changes with an immaculate beat certainly was made look easy by the Chicago-born bassist. The following years, Davis was part of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (1966-72), built up a prolific solo career and would continue to be one of the most sought-after bassists both in mainstream and avantgarde jazz, even extending his playground to popular music, featuring as session musician for, among others, Van Morrison (Astral Weeks), Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. (Born To Run) Heavy cat, heavy workload.

There’s Frank Foster. One of the uncrowned kings of the tenor saxophone. Sometimes, to put the value of a musician in perspective, it’s enlightening to let a knowledgable fellow musician speak. In Frank Foster’s case, the Dutch drummer Eric Ineke, who saw Foster perform with (one of his major drum heroes) Elvin Jones at the legendary Five Spot Cafe in 1966 and played with Foster a number of times. Ineke offers a favorable judgement of the tenorist and composer in his book of conversations with Dave Liebman, The Ultimate Sideman: “The way Frank could build up the solos… Very compositional and long. (…) He was like ‘Trane: so creative, he could never stop! He really could build his solos from Lester (Young, FM) to Trane. There is so much knowledge in his playing (…) On the road he was always writing and arranging for big bands. A very high level cat and one of the truly great jazz tenor players.”

Davis, Foster, ok. But who’s Billy Greene? Heavy Sounds is his only known recording. A pseudonym? Whitney Balliett’s profile of Elvin Jones in The New Yorker of May 18, 1968 reveals that Billy Greene was Elvin’s pianist at the time. So at any rate, Billy Greene was, well… Billy Greene. Anyone out there with the goods, speak up!

Heavy Sounds is a peculiar but delicious hodgepodge of styles. Elvin’s Guitar Blues (yes, Elvin on guitar) is vintage country blues, a basic 12-bar tune that could be tossed away as the one filler cut of the album, were it not for Frank Foster’s smokin’ tenor. Shiny Stockings, Foster’s famous instant-standard that he wrote for the book of Count Basie, whose orchestra Foster was a part of in the mid-fifties, is a surprise, but then again, not so much, since, firstly, it is an unbeatable, beautiful tune that sits well on any album (and many albums) and, secondly, is transformed by the group from the frolic swing evergreen into a improvisational gem, while retaining a definite sense of swing. The powerful work with the brushes of Elvin Jones is striking.

The moody ballad Here’s That Rainy Day, starring the full-bodied tenor of Foster, and a concise, uptempo mover, Billy Greene’s M.E., are very enjoyable. Most arresting, however, are two pieces on side A and B that both stretch the eleven minute mark without letting up one bit. Opener Raunchy Rita is heavy sounding indeed. Run through the poly-rhythmic shredder of Elvin Jones, the original blues tune (with an elongated B-section) of Frank Foster becomes a special treat. Jones is enjoying an uplifting dialogue with his compadres, cautiously nudging Billy Green forward at first, who caps off lilting clusters of funky chords with Middle-Eastern flavored series of lines, and backing up Frank Foster with a sound carpet that develops multiple delicate accents into a state of near-kinetic frenzy. A primal force. (Makes me realise yet again that Jones was a prime influence on drummers like Mitch Mitchell, Jon Hiseman and Robert Wyatt and a major inspiration behind their riotious, press-roll shenanigans) Foster thrives, Foster laughs, Foster seems to state: ‘Hey, Elvin, dig this, you’re gonna love it!’ and forces a roaring answer out of Jones. Usually, it’s the other way around. The dame with the name of Rita probably dances on the table for much of her spare time and the sweeping arc of Foster’s big-toned, husky tenor phrases is perfect accompaniment of her front room fancies. Foster relishes both a Ben Webster bag and the kind of left-field story lines that advanced hard boppers like Joe Henderson and Yusef Lateef eagerly shook out of their sleeves in the mid-sixties. The tenorist throws in edgy twists and turns in the upper register for good measure.

Raunchy Rita reminds me a bit of Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance. It’s basic, funky, danceable yet possesses an intriguing free vibe still fresh after all these years. Summertime reminds me of Summertime, yet in a wholly different manner one would expect. Gershwin’s warhorse is a fascinating duet between Jones and Davis. In Ashley Kahn’s book The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records, Elvin Jones and Richard Davis explain how it came about by happenstance:

“It was one of those things Bob Thiele was doing at the RCA Studio on 22nd Street, and Larry Coryell was supposed to there, but didn’t show up,” explained Elvin Jones. “He was sick or something, and so Richard and I were there.” Richard Davis picks up the thread: “Bob said, ‘why don’t you guys just go ahead and start playing?’ I had always thought that perhaps one day I would play Summertime as a ballad with luscious strings, the harp, the flutes, and all the accessory instruments for flamboyancy. And as it turned out I played it with just Elvin Jones (laughs).” “So we just started fooling”, Jones said, “Richard using his bow, warming up basically. I asked him, ‘What’s that you’re playing?’ and he said, ‘Summertime’. So we kind of made a thing out of it, like a duet, tom tom, mallets and bow.” Davis: “No discussion, no editing, no plan… and I just thought there was some very brotherly thing about that particular piece.” Jones: “It was so good that they didn’t want to discard it. I said, ‘Look, Larry isn’t here, I should call up my band and have them come in…’” Davis: “Bob said, ‘Ok, why don’t you guys come back tomorrow and get somebody?’ Elvin got Frank Foster and Billy Greene.”

A revealing little jazz story not only about superb musical skills and responsive improvisation, but also about how great things happen when producers adress their own spontaneous, flexible personality traits. On impulse, so to speak.

Davis switches between dark, resonant or high screaming strokes with the bow and an amalgam of inventive statements supported deftly and gently by Jones. The first part of Jones is a delicate celebration of the melody, a balanced combination of toms, cymbal and, I presume, a ‘de-snared’ snare. As the tune progresses, Jones has somehow turned it into a jungle beat, dragging the beat, stretching the bars as if they’re sturdy stripes of rubber. Further stoking up the heat, Elvin accompanies his singular drumming method with buzzing, bear-like groans. Elvin is much like ye old steam engine locomotive that grinds his way up the hill. A tough climb but he’s gonna make it, and everything – from the steam clouds, whistle and crackling noise of the rails – adds to an already lively sensation. Elvin’s from the Mechanical Age, a time when stuff could be deconstructed and put together again, fixed. Iron’s alive. Plastic’s fake.

No plastic people on Heavy Sounds. But real people, searching for real sounds.

Tommy Flanagan - Overseas

Tommy Flanagan Overseas (Prestige 1957)

In it goes, smoothly, like the royal lemon pie of my favorite pattisier. The ingredients of pianist Tommy Flanagan’s debut album as a leader, Overseas, are the best of the best, farm-fresh and complement each other in all sorts of interesting ways.

Tommy Flanagan - Overseas

Personnel

Tommy Flanagan (piano), Wilbur Little (bass), Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded

in Stockholm, Sweden in 1957

Released

as PRLP 7134 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Relaxin’ At Camarillo
Chelsea Bridge
Eclypso
Beat’s Up
Skal Brother
Side B:
Little Rock
Verdandi
Delarna
Willow Weep For Me


Listening to Flanagan follow up Charlie Parker’s speed devilish Relaxin’ At Camarillo with the elegiac, orchestral Billy Strayhorn classic Chelsea Bridge is a gift for the auditory senses. Abundant proof of the pianist’s class. A lot of Flanagan’s inventive and influential flair is present on these tunes and album: a striking penchant to alter melodies, often with the use of surprisingly chic dissonance, wonderful continuity of ideas, a snappy beat. Moreover, that triumvirate of talents – let’s make it a foursome adding a delicate yet determined touch – is put to use for creating, as Flanagan once put it succinctly, ‘an overall tonality’.

Ever since arriving in New York from his hometown Detroit in 1956, Flanagan had been in constant demand. Influenced by both the old masters Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and Nat King Cole and bebop pioneer Bud Powell, Flanagan adapted easily to differing surroundings. For much of the sixties and seventies, Flanagan accompanied Ella Fitzgerald, which prevented him from recording many albums as a leader in the sixties. During the following decades, however, Flanagan sealed his reputation as a master of the trio format. As a sideman in the late fifties and sixties, the pianist not only recorded prolifically with a number of top-rate colleagues like Kenny Burrell, Kenny Dorham, Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon and Coleman Hawkins, but also partook in two undisputed all-time classic albums: Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

How it came about that Flanagan got the lucky break to be involved in Coltrane’s complex masterpiece instead of first choice Cedar Walton is recounted here in a talk of Walton with journalist Marc “Jazzwax” Myers, jazz ambassador sui generis. Incidentally, one of Flanagan’s many Enja albums, 1982’s Giant Steps, is dedicated solely to Coltrane’s masterwork, and masterfully so. Did Flanagan feel the need to prove that his playing had improved since 1959?

Overseas, which was recorded in Stockholm, Sweden while Flanagan, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Wilbur Little toured with trombonist J.J. Johnson, spawns immaculate, spirited trio work. You will cherish the Elvin Jones masterclass of drumming with brushes. Not only does Jones swing effortlessly, his brush work is probing and highly charged. Very unusual and an absolute gas! The pocket at breakneck speed that Jones and Little lay down in Verdandi – a title and composition that suggest the influence of John Lewis; think Milano or Vendôme – is a dream for a pianist of Flanagan’s capacities, who answers the call with a showcase of virtuosity for beauty’s sake. There are a number of blues-related tunes on Overseas, Flanagan explores the form like a geologist a cave, picking in crevices, drawing back in contemplation, moving on and (unlike many geologists), finding light at the end of the tunnel. The one-minute solo in Skal Brothers, a tune that has a Ray Bryant-feel, is awe-inspiring.

The rumble of Eclypso’s theme is reminiscent of Caravan. Flanagan would re-visit his original tune on the 1973 Enja album Eclypso. By then, the public was used to the release of a splendid Flanagan album. In 1957, the flawless, ambitious Overseas announced the arrival of a leading piano artist with tremendous abilities, charm and vision.

Pepper Adams - 10 To 4 At The Five Spot

Pepper Adams 10 To 4 At The Five Spot (Riverside 1958)

If you like your baritone sax tough and hard-swinging, Pepper Adams is your man. Live album 10 To 4 At The 5 Spot runs the hard bop gamut of the period – mid-tempoed tunes that leave a lot of room for expressive blowing, coupled with fat-bottomed balladry.

Pepper Adams - 10 To 4 At The Five Spot

Personnel

Pepper Adams (baritone saxophone), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Bobby Timmons (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 15, 1958 at The Five Spot, NYC

Released

RLP 12-265 in 1958

Track listing

Side A:
‘Tis
You’re My Thrill
The Long Two/Four
Side B:
Hastings Street Bounce
Yourna


It’s distinctive for the technically brilliant and thunderous approach through which Pepper Adams is duly remembered as the guy who elevated the baritone saxophone to an instrument that could compete with the modern tenors, altos and trumpets of the day. 10 To 4 At The Five Spot also boasts the charged interaction between the top rate members of the quintet.

A number of musicians of the classic era have said that they felt extra comfortable when they happened to find themselves on the bandstand with colleagues that hailed from the same area. This group of men who were born or grew up in Detroit (excluding Bobby Timmons, who’s from Philadelphia) is exemplary of that sentiment. They sound very close-knit. Another Detroiter, Thad Jones – older brother of drummer Elvin Jones – is the composer of the boppish opening track, ‘Tis, on which all soloists take care of business. The ballad You’re My Thrill finds Adams’ dark, lyrical mood embellished by his typical barking-dog timbre and articulate, jagged phrases.

My advise to the listener is to take for granted the Five Spot’s out of tune piano and enjoy the spirited work of Bobby Timmons. His energy is evident in The Long Two/Four, in which he backs Adams and Donald Byrd amazingly alert, stimulating his compatriots by constantly pushing the bars. The condition of the upright piano is the only bad thing to say about the Five Spot. The New York café of the Termini Brothers, situated in the Bowery, was put on the map by Thelonious Monk’s long engagement in 1957 and hosted a responsive and knowledgeable bohemian and artistic crowd. Other illustrious albums recorded at the Five Spot are Monk’s Thelonious In Action and Misterioso and Eric Dolphy’s At The Five Spot 1 & 2. Pepper Adams’ 10 To 4 At The 5 Spot is one of the first Riverside live albums.

Pepper Adams gets the Five Spot crowd moving with the catchy jump blues tune, Hastings Street Bounce, that’s chock-full of archetypical jive accents. It’s an Adams original lifted from a traditional riff the baritone saxophone once heard and suavely evokes the spirit of forerunners and contemporaries Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and Tiny Bradshaw. There is a certain relish in the statements of the soloists that cannot be attributed only to their considerable talents, but also to the buoyant spirit of the tune. Drummer Elvin Jones lays down a smooth r&b ballroom beat. It is but one of the examples in his career that the drummer, known for his uproarious, polyrhythmic approach, notably with John Coltrane, proofs to be capable of understated, intuitive backing as well.

Yourna is a very melodic ballad, written by Donald Byrd. Adams and Byrd embrace eachother with the same warm voicings as their famous counterparts, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, did in ballads such as My Funny Valentine. But their sound and style, however, is the anti-thesis of Mulligan and Baker. They’re more robust. Adams and Byrd sometimes sound like four horns and the climactic accents of Yourna’s theme sent chills through my spine.

As evening went into night at the legendary Five Spot café, the bohemian clientèle had the pleasure of enjoying a vintage date of Pepper Adams & Co.

Grant Green - Street Of Dreams

Grant Green Street Of Dreams (Blue Note 1964)

I can’t get enough of Grant Green’s opening tune I Wish You Love from the guitarist’s mid-career album Street Of Dreams. It’s the epitome of Green’s ethereal qualities and works on an emotionally soothing level only true masters can bring about.

Grant Green - Street Of Dreams

Personnel

Grant Green (guitar), Larry Young (organ), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded

on November 16, 1964 at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4253 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
I Wish You Love
Lazy Afternoon
Side B:
Street Of Dreams
Somewhere In The Night


Mid-career? Indeed, I define the album as such. Although Green recorded until his death in 1979, it’s fair to say that the seventies were disappointing for Green and that the relevant part of his career runs from his start in 1960 to the beginning of the following decade. Moreover, Green practically lived in the studio in the early sixties, mostly as solo and staff guitarist for Blue Note. Nobody did so much sessions for the famous label as Green, and certainly not between 1960 and 1965. Hence said stipulation that Street Of Dreams is a mid-career effort.

During that period, Green had struck up a fruitful recording relationship with organist Larry Young and drummer Elvin Jones. Elvin Jones is on a string of Grant Green albums, among them Matador. Naturally, Jones took part in recording Larry Young’s masterpiece Unity. The trio furthermore cooperate on a couple of ace Blue Note albums: Grant Green’s Talkin’ About and I Want To Hold Your Hand and Larry Young’s Into Something.

Street Of Dreams certainly is an ace album as well and evidence of how well the famed members of this group – augmented to a quartet by vibrafonist Bobby Hutcherson, who played on essential Green album Idle Moments – respond to eachother. Street Of Dreams and Somewhere In The Night are easygoing swingers including fluid solo’s by Green and Young, but the standout tracks are to be found on side A. Lazy Afternoon is a slow, mellow standard which charm lies in the combination between its harmonic subtleties and Green’s blues-infused playing style.

Both Lazy Afternoon and I Wish You Love benefit from the polyrhythmic finesse and tension-building of one-man band Elvin Jones, Larry Young’s economical, full-bodied backing and adventurous phrases and Hutcherson’s moody embellishments. In front of this crackerjack trio, Grant Green reaches bittersweet heights in I Wish You Love, which originally was a chanson from French singer Charles Trenet. There is so much to enjoy: a deceptively simple, patiently executed, beautiful melody and a memorable solo that constitutes nearly five minutes of sheer beauty. Then there’s that delicious sustain of Green’s Gibson guitar that must surely do an ‘embraceable you’ to you too. Green’s stately delivery of I Wish You Love never fails to bring me into a sweet and sour, ephemereal state of mind.

Street Of Dreams is a carefully constructed affair. From the front cover – an apt picture and illustration by Reid Miles of the intersection Grant Avenue & Green Street in San Francisco – via repertoire and titles to Green’s performance, it’s obvious that the album’s target is a soft spot in the heart. It certainly hits home. As one of many top class albums in Green’s book, I think Street Of Dreams will satisfy jazz fans that are charmed by the guitarist’s better known Idle Moments.

Larry Young - Into Something!

Larry Young Into Something! (Blue Note 1965)

The four personalities on organist Larry Young’s first album on Blue Note Into Something! are really into something very good. Individually, they are on top of their form and, moreover, build on eachother’s strenghts and as such deliver a tight, cutting-edge organ jazz album.

Larry Young - Into Something!

Personnel

Larry Young (organ), Sam Rivers (tenor saxophone A1-2, B1-2), Grant Green (guitar), Elvin Jones (drums)

Recorded

on November 12, 1964 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4187 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Tyrone
Plaza De Toros
Side B:
Paris Eyes
Backup
Ritha


It would be a year until Young would turn in follow-up Unity, the organist’s unequivocal masterpiece. Into Something! is less challenging harmonically, but far from plain. Young was an extraordinary Hammond organist if ever there was one. His fresh solo’s, turning around the axes of the compositions’ blue prints, are top-notch throughout the album. Listening to them, the uncommon and fantastic image arises of a reed that is somehow attached to the Hammond B3’s keyboard. Cause that’s the impression Young’s lines give: of statements from front-line horn men of that period such as Joe Henderson and Booker Ervin. That Larry Young has been dubbed the ‘John Coltrane of the Hammond organ’ is a bit cockeyed, it nevertheless says a lot about Larry Young’s standing and innovative legacy.

Young’s artful Hammond approach is particularly noticable on Tyrone. Once the relatively simple blues theme is ended, Young throws himself headlong into a solo that is a demonstration of emotional directness, coherence and subtle musical intellect. Moreover, it’s cooking.

Tyrone is a standout track. The other one is Plaza De Toros, an alluring, groovy Spanish-type composition by guitarist Grant Green, who shows his remarkable depth as a soloist, which is complemented by a canny, sharp attack. It also includes (as does the whole album) delightful work from tenorist Sam Rivers; dark-toned, idiosyncratic passion play from a reedman adding touches of Ornette Coleman, Roland Kirk and Archie Shepp to his own distinct personality. It’s refreshing to hear such an original type of tenor saxophonist on an organ jazz recording.

Aside from the fine rapport between these four top-class musicians, the key to the album is the typical polyrhythmic spree of drummer Elvin Jones. It lifts the compositions well above their already solid standard and inspires his colleagues to put their best foot forward; especially on the two standout tracks, but also on the three remaining, more laid-back (Elvin Jones-style ‘laid-back’) tunes of the album. Prior to Into Something!, Jones, Green and Young played on Grant Green’s Talkin’ About and their alchemy on Larry Young’s November 12, 1964 session for Into Something! is striking.

Four days later, on November 16, 1964, and half a year later, on March 15, 1965, they would continue their genial rapport on, respectively, Grant Green’s Street Of Dreams and I Want To Hold Your Hand. Blue Note headquarters, generally, and wisely, kept the advance guard of jazz as close together as possible.