Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Elmo Hope Homecoming! (Riverside 1961)

Coming home to a group of hi-level colleagues as featured on Elmo Hope’s first Riverside album Homecoming must’ve been a thrill. It certainly is an exciting session of the unique, tragically underrated pianist.

Elmo Hope, Homecoming!

Personnel

Elmo Hope (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet A1, A3, B2), Jimmy Heath (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1, A3, B2), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on June 22 & 29, 1961 at Bell Sound Studio, NYC

Released

as RLP 381 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Moe Jr.
La Berthe
Eyes So Beautiful As Yours
Homecoming
Side B:
One Mo’ Blues
A Kiss For My Love
Imagination


You are Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1927. Childhood pal of Bud Powell, spinning records of Johann Sebastian Bach all day long with the future giant of bebop, when soon after Thelonious Monk joins to complete the illustrious, mutually responsive threesome. As a young man, you catch a bullit from a white police officer, (sounds familiar?) in a hideous, disgraceful turn of events being trialed but ultimately released. You marry, have a son, who dies tragically young. Highly talented, working towards identical musical conclusions as Powell, Monk, Parker, yet in your own peculiar way, you miss out on the burgeoning bebop scene when Uncle Sam calls: ooh ooh ooh, you’re in the army now, from 1943 to ‘46. The following Korean War is settled half-heartedly in 1953 when you’re featured on Lou Donaldson/Clifford Brown’s New Faces New Sounds 10inch LP on Blue Note, which benefits from your excellent writing. (you’ll prove to leave a legacy of brillant compositions) You become a leader in your own right, recording the unforgettable albums Informal Jazz (Prestige 1956, with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd) and Trio And Quintet (Blue Note 1957, recordings from ’54 to ‘57) but public recognition keeps eluding you.

Then there’s the needle. Has been there all the while. Having lost your cabaret card in New York City, without which a musician is practically unemployed, you move to the West Coast. Its scene doesn’t exactly seems to meet your standards but you nonetheless record the first-class Elmo Hope Trio (HiFi 1959) and partake in a classic session with fellow expat Harold Land and trumpet enigma Dupree Bolton, the unbeatable, stunning The Fox, filled with world-class Hope tunes. It’s back to NYC in 1961, the Homecoming album is not to be sneezed at. Following albums on Riverside bear puzzling titles as High Hope (you mean, like a lot of hope or Hope’s always high or what?) and Hope-Full, a duo album with Hope’s wife Berthe. Perhaps Riverside Riverside hoped (no pun intented) that it would outsell Ella & Louis? There’s Sounds From Rikers Island on Audio Fidelity, an intriguing album including John Gilmore and Philly Joe Jones, ironically, recorded at the jail Hope did time in. You are performing regularly in NYC with, among others, John Ore and Billy Higgins. But it doesn’t seem to happen. Monk (Man, did he have to struggle against the odds) will make the cover of Time Magazine in 1964. You’ve been interviewed by Downbeat Magazine just once during the course of your career. This, somehow, inexplicably, sometimes happens…

The story of Elmo Hope, extraordinary, unique pianist, ended tellingly in 1967, age 43, in a hospital that specialised in addicts. Supposedly very unprofessionally, according to Berthe, as something went wrong and Hope died of pneumonia. Slowly but surely, the wheels of appreciation have been turning in Hope’s favor, slightly lacking behind the other ‘unknown’ piano giant, Herbie Nichols. Much too late, but slowly and surely. It is said Hope’s unpredictable style, focusing on the architecture of the composition instead of virtuosity, prevented broad public recognition. Might be. (the above-mentioned concise life story offers some possible clues) However, Monk was a puzzling personality, yet finally made the grade.

All things considered: a brilliant pianist. In Hope’s playing, an underlying sense of foreboding is almost always there. He’s a nervous type of guy but also light-footed, a bittersweet personality. His touch ruthless or tender, his timing floating like a bottle on the ocean waves, Hope’s unusually structured compositions move with a surprisingly natural flow. Homecoming finds Hope re-united with like-minded firebrands, drummer Philly Joe Jones being the ultimate burner. At the core of the session is the conversation between Philly Joe and the fellows – Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Blue Mitchell, Percy Heath – and Hope in particular, with four tunes consisting of the trio format. The pushing of Jones of Moe Jr.’s hi-speed changes is a treat, the way he tickles the senses of Hope with a playful torrent of rimshots – a melodic answer to Hope’s preceding questions – is the cherry on the top. Hope is close to buddy Bud here, yet as a contrast lets notes hang suspended in the air, alternating the silence with tumbling tremelos.

The trio sends the title track to the stratosphere and Philly Joe Jones drives Hope to the rail. Come on, St. Elmo, be quick, be swift, hurry home, time may await but… Hope responds, so effortlessly stretching lines over the bars, a roaring run in the upper register here, a James P. Johnson-figure with the left hand there. Yes, Philly Joe, I’m almost there… But not quite and (consciously, like Mingus, embracing shift of tempo into the bag of new means of expression?) Hope, Jones and Heath fasten the pace considerably and subsequently end with a luscious sigh. Hope takes care of the coda on his own. Peace, quietude, the road always leads…

Elmo Hope plays lines you were unlikely to come across in 1961. They pry La Berthe’s fascinating melody, which would become messy in the hands of lesser talents, running smoothly somehow via Hope’s singular route from mind to fingers. The tune asks a lot from the horn men and keeps Foster, Heath and Mitchell on their toes. A restrained use of notes by Hope benefits the melancholic Eyes So Beautiful As Yours, definitely Hope’s Crepuscule With Nellie. A somber dedication to his wife, obviously the best thing happening in Hope’s troubled life besides jazz music.

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.

Milt Jackson

Milt Jackson Plenty, Plenty Soul (Atlantic 1957)

At the time of Milt Jackson’ recording of Plenty, Plenty Soul, the group that he was part of, The Modern Jazz Quartet, was a major force in the jazz world. It had recorded their blend of modern jazz and chamber music on albums as Concorde, Fontessa and Django, which included the famous title track. With more time on his hands for the blues away from MJQ, Plenty, Plenty Soul showcases a freewheelin’ Milt Jackson.

Milt Jackson

Personnel

Milt Jackson (vibes), Joe Newman (trumpet), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone A1-A3), (Cannonball Adderley credited as Ronnie Peters, alto A1-A3), Frank Foster (tenor saxophone A1-A3), Lucky Thompson (tenor saxophone B1-B4), Sahib Shehab (baritone saxophone A1-A3), Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass A1-A3), Oscar Pettiford (bass B1-B4), Art Blakey (drums A1-A3), Connie Kay (drums B1-B4)

Recorded

on January 5 & 7, 1975 at Atlantic Studio in New York City

Released

as SD 1269 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Plenty, Plenty Soul
Boogity Boogity
Heartstrings
Side B:
Sermonette
The Spirit-Feel
Ignunt Oil
Blues At Twilight


Side A has the upper hand. The opener and title track is a long blues that includes an abundance of funky and virtuoso Milt Jackson phrases. The rhythym section of Art Blakey, Horace Silver (Silver had parted ways with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers half a year prior to this session) and Milt Jackson’s colleague form the MJQ, bassist Percy Heath, is especially exciting on the joyful Boogity Boogity. Jackson is stimulated considerably by Blakey’s amalgam of press rolls, tom attacks and nifty use of the snare drum’s metal ring. Ending side A, Jackson’s radiant sound and lyrical twists and turns are at the core of the ballad Heartstrings.

The uplifting arrangements of the first three tracks are by Quincy Jones. The solo’s by Jackson’s sidemen are excellent. Part of the all-star cast is altoist Cannonball Adderley, (credited as ‘Ronnie Peters’ for legal reasons) whose solo on Boogity Boogity is one of the album’s highlights.

In comparison to this session, the one that culminated in side B is less spiritedlacks. Milt Jackson’s other colleague from the MJQ, drummer Connie Kay, is much less energetic than Art Blakey. It’s why tunes like Nat Adderley’s pretty, infectious melody Sermonette, don’t really take off. Less exceptional than side A, side B nevertheless presents a couple of highlights. Firstly, the abundant church feeling Milt Jackson brings to his performances, especially in The Spirit Feel, makes the heart skip a beat. Secondly, Jackson demonstrates both outstanding technique (utilising the four mallet-approach) and a feeling for the blues in the slow blues Blues At Twilight. Finally, tenorist Lucky Thompson’s round tone and articulate style are responsible for the session’s merry atmosphere.

In my opinion, both sides of Milt Jackson – the ‘blowing’ kind and the MJQ-kind – deserve equal attention. The downgrading of John Lewis has been a favourite sport of Milt Jackson fans. Reportedly, Jackson hated his guts and in spite of being fed up with the quartet periodically, stayed in it for the money. Yet, Jackson fans tend to forget that Lewis’s writing and arranging skills and understated (quietly swinging) piano backing brought masterful play out of Jackson.

Obviously, we should be very glad that Milt Jackson also kept recording in his own right. As his second solo foray on Atlantic using a top-notch all-star cast, Plenty, Plenty Soul foreshadowed other exciting collaborations with Ray Charles (Soul Brothers, Soul Meeting), Coleman Hawkins (Bean Bags) and John Coltrane. (Bags & Trane)

Frank Foster - Manhattan Fever

Frank Foster Manhattan Fever (Blue Note 1968)

Manhattan Fever is Frank Foster’s best known solo album, arguably because it’s on Blue Note. It’s one of his best as well. Some hard bop statements may come a few years after the fact, it’s an exhilarating affair of top-notch writing and Foster solo’s.

Frank Foster - Manhattan Fever

Personnel

Frank Foster (tenor saxophone, alto clarinet), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Burt Collins (trumpet, piccolo trumpet), Garnett Brown (trombone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Kenny Rogers (baritone saxophone), Ed Pazant (alto saxophone, flute, oboe), Richard Wynands (piano), George Cables (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Buster Williams (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Recorded

on March 21, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84278 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Little Miss No Nose
Manhattan Fever
Loneliness
Side B:
Stammpede
You Gotta Be Kiddin’
Seventh Avenue Bill


Well versed in both, as well as in bebop, Foster was without a doubt an all-round musician with a taste for adventure. His particular style of tenor playing led to a string of high profile dates in the fifties and sixties with, among others, Monk, Milt Jackson and Elvin Jones, and a series of solo recordings on a diversity of labels, of which Prestige’s Fearless Frank Foster is particularly good. His swing date No Count and freak out free jazz fest The Loud Minority are less interesting. But for sure, Foster’s solid work on other artist’s recordings make up for an occasional minor mishap. I’d say Foster’s 1954 debut on Blue Note, Here Comes Frank Foster counts as a suave and smoky alternative to the work of contemporaries Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz.

In 1968 Frank Foster was back on Blue Note, a move instigated by colleague and Blue Note artist and A&R manager Duke Pearson. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Both were in possession of a dose of writing and arranging skills well above average. Those talents are exactly what makes a big part of this album of excellent quality. Stamppede, for instance, does more or less what the parafrased title suggests; an uproar started by the heavy drums of Mickey Roker, it’s a rollicking rush, yet neither evolving into panic, nor in frenzy, but instead being controlled by a solid three horn arrangement. It makes the song sound like one of a big band. It’s a method Foster employs on all tracks. On You Gotta Be Kiddin’, another catchy, heavy swinger, it also works particularly well; it’s a craft Foster honed during his decade-long cooperation with Count Basie.

It’s apparent that Foster’s writing and arranging bring out the best in his sidemen on the ‘modernised’ swing-type songs. When the material is less interesting, as is the case with the title tune, the solo’s become a bit longwinded. Manhattan Fever is impressive at first hearing, but the blowing, except for Foster’s, lacks guts. No Sidewinder fire here.

Finally, Seventh Avenue Bill is an outstanding, complex coda to an eclectic album that very articulately speaks to both body and intellect.