Frank Strozier Quartet - March Of The Siamese Children

Frank Strozier Quartet March Of The Siamese Children (Jazzland 1962)

Frank Strozier’s March Of The Siamese Children makes abundantly clear that the overlooked alto saxophonist and flute player was an advanced hard bop force to reckon with.

Frank Strozier Quartet - March Of The Siamese Children

Personnel

Frank Strozier (alto sax A2-4, B1, B3, B4, flute A1, B2), Harold Mabern (piano), Bill Lee (bass), Al Dreares (drums)

Recorded

on March 28, 1962 at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC

Released

as JLP 70 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
March Of The Siamese Children
Extension 27
Something I Dreamed Last Night
Don’t Follow The Crowd
Side B:
Our Waltz
Will I Forget?
Lap
Hey, Lee!


Considering the wealth of great saxophonists in the sixties, evidently Frank Strozier found a way to stand out. Strozier, now 80 and inactive for decades, has worked towards a hard bop style with alluring, adventurous touches, delivered with an irresistible combination of fury and sweetness. Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937, Strozier was teenage buddy with Phineas Newborn Jr., Booker Little, Harold Mabern and George Coleman. His career was off to a promising start. Relocated to the Chicago in the late fifties, Strozier struck up a fruitful cooperation with MJT, the group of drummer Walter Perkins, resulting in a number of albums on the VeeJay label, notably MJT + 3 in 1959. Strozier also played on The Young Lions, the 1960 VeeJay session of rising stars Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter. As if that wasn’t enough, Strozier’s first album as a leader that same year, The Fantastic Frank Strozier, also on VeeJay, included Booker Little and the rhythm section of Miles Davis’ epic Kind Of Blue, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.

His subsequent years in New York City in the early 60s and on the West Coast for the rest of the decade kept Strozier in high demand. He played briefly in the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963, between the tenures of Hank Mobley and George Coleman. In Los Angeles, Strozier had extensive stints in the bands of drummer Shelly Manne and trumpeter Don Ellis. Strozier recorded sporadically in the seventies, when an alledged disappointment with the music business caused Strozier to quit playing altogether. Other notable albums and features are Long Night (Jazzland, 1962), What’s Goin’ On (Steeplechase, 1977), Booker Ervin’s Exulation! (Prestige, 1963), Roy Haynes’ Cymbalism (New Jazz, 1963), McCoy Tyner’s Today And Tomorrow (Impulse, 1964), Chet Baker’s Baby Breeze (Limelight, 1965), Shelly Manne’s Boss Sounds (Atlantic, 1966), Oliver Nelson’s Live From L.A. (Impulse, 1967), Sonny Stitt’s Dumpy Mama and Woody Shaw’s Little Red Fantasy (Muse, 1976). A review of Strozier’s Cool And Cloudy and an insightful appraisal of his jazz personality can be found on Steven Cerra’s excellent Jazz Profiles blog here.

The urgent, lean alto of Strozier is featured on four tunes: the free-flowing Strozier composition Extension 27, Harold Mabern’s Hey, Lee!, Bill Lee’s Lap, a nifty blues melody consisting of the archetypical 12 bars, which are, to be sure, far from a straightjacket for Strozier, a storyteller revealing abundant quizzical, masterful sounds of surprise. Last but not least, Strozier takes to heart the title of the album’s ballad, Don’t Follow The Crowd, his alto ripping hypnotically through the classy take, much like the great Jackie McLean, with a tone that’s less acerbic, but still a bit edgy. Strozier likes to gamble and isn’t afraid of emotions, switches naturally from soft-hued, soothing phrases to dramatic, rousing sentences. Besides, he’s got the blues. A combination of assets that lifts the Fain, Magidson and Yellen ballad to a higher plain.

Strozier is excellent on flute as well. March Of The Siamese Children stands out, his flute weaving sprightly and authoritatively through the pretty melody and the appealing interplay of exotic and straightforward rhythm. The beautiful composition was written by the legendary team of music theatre writers Rodgers and Hammerstein II for the musical The King And I in 1951. It was revived for the movie version in 1956 starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. See here and compare it with Strozier’s version, the opening tune of the album. A great example of the jazz musician’s ability to re-envision material in accordance with his own feelings and ideas and the importance of the show tune writers as suppliers of intelligent blueprints for jazz improvisation.

Strozier’s March Of The Siamese Children is simultaneously mellow and probing. Intriguing, like Strozier himself, a distinct personality deserving much more attention than he has until now received.

Johnny Griffin - The Big Soul-Band

Johnny Griffin Orchestra The Big Soul-Band (Riverside 1960)

A look at Johnny Griffin’s side dates around the time of The Big Soul-Band’s release in 1960 shows he was a very sought-after player. No wonder, because the ‘Little Giant’ decidedly had his chops together, playing masterfully executed fast runs, all the while retaining a heartfelt sense of the blues. Cooperation with Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Clark Terry and John Coltrane, and solo endeavors on the Blue Note and Riverside label resulted in very positive critical acclaim. Thus, by the time the idea of putting out a record of grass roots jazz took fruition, Griffin was ready for it.

Johnny Griffin - The Big Soul-Band

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Bobby Timmons (piano), Clark Terry (trumpet), Bobby Bryant (trumpet), Charles Davis (baritone saxophone), Edwin Williams (tenor saxophone), Julian Priester (trombone), Matthew Gee (trombone), Pat Patrick (alto saxophone), Frank Strozier (alto saxophone), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Victor Sproles (bass), Charlie Persip (drums), Norman Simmons (arranger)

Recorded

on May 24 & 31 and June 3, 1960 in NYC

Released

as RLP 331 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Side A:
Wade In The Water
Panic Room Blues
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Meditation
Side B:
Holla
So Tired
Deep River
Jubilation


And forget the concept. There was one, but its execution is wholly unforced. The album kicks off with a sweeping version of Wade In The Water. The pace of the album is set: a solid rythym section of drummer Charlie Persip and either bassist Vic Sproles or Bob Cranshaw, who spend much of their time in the A and E strings, therefore adding a definite down-home feeling, supports a brass and reed section that would please both Oliver Nelson and Count Basie. Griffin’s tenor beautifully weaves in and out of that big sound with sudden bebop stabs and lenghty gospel shouts.

Meditation listens like a suspence story should read, it builds up tension making use of Norman Simmons’ subtle score and a switch from delicate brush work to exciting press rolls by Charlie Persip, to a release that has Griffin telling a story you could meditate on for hours.

If you think side A is good, try side B. Holla puts you right where you want to be if your left ear digs Brother Ray saying ‘What I’d say’ and your right ear enjoys the halleluja of the Twenty or Thirty Blind Boys of Alabama. Mentioning the inclusion of Bobby Timmons’ So Tired (Timmons, incidentally, has guest spots on Meditation and Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen) and Deep River should give you an idea of what this album is about. While So tired is executed properly, it doesn’t reach the heights of either Timmons’ or Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet’s performances. Deep River is a jubilant affair. Initially, brass and reeds are left out, leaving space for intimate interplay between Griffin and the rhytym section, only to return in the good sense of bombast. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t know where I currently resided but Rampart Street seemed pretty close!

Jazz can do you like that. Here’s a record that has been gathering dust in my cabinet for about fifteen years and up pops a different favorite tune everytime I listen to it now. Rest assured that The Big Soul Band ages as well as any Ardbeg scotch is famous for doing.