Sonny Rollins - Alfie

Sonny Rollins Alfie (Impulse 1966)

Alfie, the Sonny Rollins soundtrack of the prize-winning English movie starring Michael Caine, deserves to be ranked alongside Saxophone Colossus and A Night At The Village Vanguard as one of the tenor saxophonist’s major achievements. Largely on account of his unbelievable improvisations in Alfie’s Theme.

Sonny Rollins - Alfie

Personnel

Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Bob Ashton (tenor saxophone), Phil Woods (alto saxophone), Danny Bank (baritone saxophone), J.J. Johnson (trombone A1, A2), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone A3 B1-3), Roger Kellaway (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Walter Booker (bass), Frankie Dunlop (drums), Oliver Nelson (arranger, conductor)

Recorded

on January 26, 1966 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as A-9111 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Alfie’s Theme
He’s Younger Than You Are
Street Runner With Child
Side B:
Transition Theme For Minor Blues Or Little Malcolm Loves His Dad
On Impulse
Alfie’s Theme Differently


In the years preceding Alfie, Sonny Rollins had developed into a top-rank performer able to bid a high price for his beloved art form. A lucrative contract with RCA after the tenorist’s legendary, mysterious sabbatical ‘under the Williamsburg Bridge’ from 1959 to 1961 led to a series of five albums for the major label, starting with The Bridge, ending with The Standard Sonny Rollins. In the early and mid-sixties, Rollins, always the contemplative intellectual, self-critical to the point of exhaustion and switching between sidemen continuously, was on a constant search for new means of expression. Keeping it fresh, tryin’ or dyin’, elusive as far as style is concerned, Rollins defied a sound definition of his personality. Albums with standards and the sole bossa tune alternated with extremist free jazz outings like Our Man In Jazz in 1962 and the intriguing, endearing cooperation with Coleman Hawkins on Sonny Meets Hawk in 1963. 1965’s adventurous On Impulse preceded Alfie, which was followed up by the full-blast avantgarde effort with John Coltrane’s famous associates Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison plus Freddie Hubbard, East Broadway Run Down, a high-level album that, however, didn’t fully delivered on its promise. On the other hand, Alfie becomes more beautiful with every turn on the table.

Given the sensitivity and critical attitude of Rollins in regard to obtrusive sidemen, particularly pianists, it is remarkable that the large ensemble context of Alfie works so well. Oliver Nelson’s flexible, spot-on arrangements keep Rollins on his toes. If there is one let-down on this album, it is the fact that the couple of major league colleagues in the reed chairs, Phil Woods and J.J. Johnson, aren’t allowed solo space. Kenny Burrell and Roger Kellaway have ample room to make their mark, and, admittedly, make the most of it. Kellaway’s gentle touch contrasts nicely with the forceful Rollins and the pianist performs particularly well in Alfie’s Theme Differently, building on the dying notes of Rollins’ off-centre bits with zest. Burrell is peppery throughout, switching between fluently archetypical blues lines, shimmering clusters of notes and crunchy chords.

The bit of undercooled, breathy balladry of Rollins in He’s Younger Than You Are is a genuine nod to Coleman Hawkins. But before you know it, Rollins has ended the tune with a sweeping arc of majestic wails. Rollins, the rhythm king, is in evidence on Street Runner With Child, a collage of romantic solo piano, fast-paced blaxploitation flic-type flights and the recurring reference to Alfie’s Theme, is the only tune on the album that reminds us of the fact that Alfie is a soundtrack. The free playing of Rollins, mixed interestingly with a constant eye on the melody, is most evident in Alfie’s Theme Differently and Transition, while the contrast between the lithe rhythm and meandering lines of On Impulse (a title made up on impulse while Sonny was thinking about his album On Impulse also on the Impulse label the year before?) ignites a dreamy vibe.

Rollins in a great mood. It’s getting even better, because, without the shadow of a doubt, Alfie’s Theme is the albums’s hors d’oeuvre. The large ensemble transports the catchy line to the terrain where Ray Charles drove his tunes home to in the fifties. Drive. Propulsion. Courtesy of Oliver Nelson’s fleshy, well-timed horn sections and the probing rhythm tandem of bassist Walter Booker and drummer Frankie Dunlop. Burrell and Kellaway flourish, but Sonny Rollins is the star of the show, performing one of his all-time great solo’s. In a structured exploration of the basic theme, Rollins grabs the melody by its sleeve. Then he pauses deliberately for a while, like a girl that’s playing hard to get, indulges in a rumble of percussive blocks of short-ringing notes, lingers on new notes like a guest savoring a star restaurant dessert, wanders off into the avantgarde jungle, subsequently swings back into bop mode, alternating double timing, honks and forceful wails, moving into scales with the flick of a, highly skilled, tongue and continues to blow confidently over the sounds of the repeated brass and reed statements. Rollins explores every corner of the melody, rhythm-wise, harmony-wise, returning to it almost every few bars and all the while displaying his big, imposing sound. Rounding off the proceedings in style, Rollins ends his solo with an explosive note.

Lots of proteines in the meal of Sonny, which after all, maybe, wasn’t a high-brow dinner but a reinvigorating eggs and sausage and a side of toast, coffee and a roll, hashbrowns over easy, chili in a bowl, with burgers and fries (now, what kinda pie?)… Full stomach tenor! Sonny Rollins at his best, speaking eloquently to both mind and soul. And as a natural consequence, a peak moment in jazz.

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.

Buddy Montgomery - Rather This Than That

Buddy Montgomery This Rather Than That (Impulse 1969)

The blues-oriented album of vibraphonist and pianist Buddy Montgomery, This Rather Than That, also includes excellent modern jazz playing.

Buddy Montgomery - Rather This Than That

Personnel

Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone, piano), Melvin Rhyne (organ), Jody Christian (piano A4, B1), Manty Ellis (guitar A4, B1), Monk Montgomery (Fender Bass A1, A2, B1, B2, B4), Jimmy Rowser (bass A3, A4), George Brown (drums A1-4, B1, B4)

Recorded

on September 10 & 11, 1069 at Universal Recording Cooperation, Chicago

Released

as Impulse AS-9292 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
This Rather Than That
Tin Tin Deo
Rose Bud
Stormy
Side B:
Willy Nilly Blues
Beautiful Love
Didn’t We
Winding Up


Family ties: Buddy, of course, was the younger brother of Wes Montgomery and bassist Monk Montgomery, who’s also present on this album. Buddy and Monk were ‘buddies-in-crime’ in The Mastersounds from ‘57 to ‘61, a popular, accessible jazz group that also included Wes Montgomery on one album. (Kismet, World Pacific 1958) From ‘55 to ‘61, the three brothers also starred as the Montgomery Brothers, but they played together well into the period when Wes had become a bonafide jazz star. Buddy was part of the tour that ended so tragically with the passing of Wes due to a heart attack shortly after on June 15, 1968, in their hometown of Indianapolis. Also on this album is another Indianapolis-born musician, organist Melvin Rhyne, who appeared on four acclaimed Wes Montgomery albums. An Indy cousin, so to speak.

Following the death of Wes, Buddy Montgomery mainly concentrated on jazz education, although he kept on recording sporadically as a leader as well as a sideman with old pals in the late eighties and early nineties. (Bobby Hutcherson’s Cruisin’ The Bird, Charlie Rouse’s Epistrophy, David “Fathead” Newman’s Blue Head) Perhaps a place in the background suited Buddy Montgomery best.

Having said that, Buddy’s up front on the front cover of This Rather Than That. What about the fruit and vegetables? I’m not sure what he’s holding in his right hand. Looks like citrus and a pomegranate in his left hand. The symbol of fertility. The Egyptians believed that eating pomegranates granted immortality. The Greek godess Persephones was sent back to Hades every six months because she ate six pomegranate seeds. Heretics say that it was the pomegranate that lured Adam and Eve from paradise. It looks like Buddy is due at the Apollo Theatre for his Wednesday night juggling act.

Buddy Montgomery utilised a focused linear approach, quicksilver, definite phrasing and notes that allure like drops of fountain water. His notes ring shortly, matter-of-factly, more in the vein of Lionel Hampton than Bobby Hutcherson. Buddy Montgomery was an excellent, all-round vibraphonist. He’s very compatible with the tasteful Melvin Rhyne, who’s the king of understatement.

The blues tracks are backbeat-heavy, funky. Monk Montgomery’s electric bass playing (Monk Montgomery pioneered the use of Fender Precision bass in jazz as early as 1951 and featured it strongly with The Mastersounds) perfectly suit the blues tunes, but seriously barricades swing from the modern jazz cuts, in spite of Monk’s top-notch chops. Fine modern jazz has been played with the use of the electric bass. But to my ears, it has a hard time bringing coherence to the overall jazz sound in comparison to the way the upright bass does. The upright bass is for modern jazz what the rug is for Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski: it really ties the room together. Luckily, as in Tin Tin Deo, Buddy Montgomery and Rhyne share swinging responsibilities. Accompanied by deft, chubby organ chords, Buddy’s ultra-fast, probing lines slither like vipers in the grass, constantly moving forward. Rhyne answers the call and, regardless of the fast tempo, patiently builds a story free of clichés and counterfeit climaxes.

The group also performs a lush waltz-version of the show tune Beautiful Love. The finishing touch to a quirky but enjoyable album of jukebox blues and modern jazz.

Gloria Coleman - Soul Sisters

Gloria Coleman Soul Sisters (Impulse 1963)

Organist Gloria Coleman’s album Soul Sisters is charmingly soft-hued; a conservative yet catchy blues set that’s mellow in a funky way. In 1963 Coleman and drummer Pola Roberts regularly gigged with Grant Green on the East Coast, Leo Wright sometimes subbed for Green. Thus, these jazz ladies were well acquainted with their male counterparts. (Furthermore, Coleman is featured on Leo Wright’s Soul Talk)

Gloria Coleman - Soul Sisters

Personnel

Gloria Coleman (organ), Leo Wright (alto saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Pola Roberts (drums)

Recorded

on May 21, 1963

Released

as Impulse A-67

Track listing

Side A:
Que Baby
Sadie Green
Hey Sonny Red
Side B:
Melba Minor
Funky Bob
My Lady’s Waltz


Coherence isn’t Soul Sisters‘ only strong point. Green and Wright share the natural proclivity of cookin’ from the word ‘go’; Green’s urgent runs blend well with Coleman’s stripped-down organ sound and a no-nonsense enthousiasm; an ethos of not-laying-it-on-too-thick that climaxes in the charged My Ladies’ Waltz, wherein the excitement is not created by playing louder but playing ever so tight.

Gloria Coleman, then wife of saxophonist George Coleman, started out as bass player and pianist before turning to the organ and picking up some advice from the inventor of modern organ jazz, Jimmy Smith. From her supportive comping on among others Melba’s Minor, a composition that borrows part of Django’s theme, it is evident she took Smith’s lessons to heart.

Gloria Coleman’s discography reads like the manual of a toothpick: it’s very concise. She nevertheless performed regularly and her tunes were in demand. Miss Coleman died in 2010. As you’ll surely agree, the passing of a ‘soul sister’.