Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup (Blue Note 1959)

A wide-ranging stunner, pianist Walter Davis Jr.’s debut as a leader in 1959, Davis Cup, deserves its rightful place among the classic hard bop albums on Blue Note at that time.

Walter Davis Jr. - Davis Cup

Personnel

Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on August 2, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 4018 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
’S Make It
Loodle-Lot
Sweetness
Side B:
Rhumba Nhumba
Minor Mind
Millie’s Delight


From the immaculate six Davis-penned compositions, the hi-powered energy, the stellar line-up, the singular style of Walter Davis Jr. and, last but not least, the wicked title, Davis Cup is an allround, pure-bred hard bop package easily taken for granted in the era of classic jazz albums. In 1959, the following albums, among others, were released on Blue Note along Davis Cup: Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’ and Blowin’ The Blues Away, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messenger’s At The Jazz Corner Of The World and Africaine, Donald Byrd’s Byrd In Hand, Kenny Burrell’s On View At The Five Spot and Jackie McLean’s New Soil and Swing Swang Swingin’. Pleasant company.

Not just an innocent bystander either, Mr. Davis. The Richmond, Virginia-born pianist was featured on New Soil, (and, later on, McLean’s avant-leaning Let Freedom Ring) Byrd In Hand and Africaine. Obviously, Blue Note label bosses Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff were convinced of the abilities of Davis, who went as far back as playing alongside and recording with Charlie Parker at the turn of the previous decade and was known as a major interpreter of Bud Powell. By 1959, Walter Davis Jr. had cemented a position as a delicate juggler of traditional and adventurous styles, underlined by his composer’s sense of continuity, off-kilter twists and turns that pleasantly throw you off balance, a strong percussive touch and chubby, dense, driving clusters of chords. In the slipstream of Horace Silver in the late fifties, Davis is concerned not only with gritty yet elaborate compositions, but also with providing extra motives beside the melody line, creating simultaneously complex and easy-flowing tunes in the process.

Great tunes. Most of them are mid-tempo compositions, like ’S Make It (not to be confused with Lee Morgan’s ’S Make It, which was recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers in 1964) Loodle-Lot and Minor Mood, alternated with the ballad Sweetness and the uplifting exotica of Rhumba Nhumba. Medium tempo, minor moods, blues inflections, the lone ballad and an Afro-Cuban exercise: a typical hard bop bag. However, Davis passes his exam cum laude, not in the least as a consequence of Art Taylor and Sam Jones’ responsive, propulsive support, the swift, lyrical lines of Donald Byrd and acerbic, suspenceful contributions of Jackie McLean.

In the sixties, Davis dropped out for a while and worked as a (assumedly very skilled!) tailor before returning to the scene with a guest role on Sonny Rollins 1973 album Horn Culture. His second album as a leader was released as late as 1979, the first of a series until his passing in 1990 at the age of 57.

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Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Drum Suite (Columbia 1957)

Who else than the indomitable Art Blakey was qualified to present an African drum extravaganza? Maybe not so shocking today, Drum Suite was a progressive album in the late fifties.

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Personnel

Art Blakey (drums), Jo Jones (drums A1-3), Charles ‘Specs’ Wright (drums, timpani, gong A1-3), Oscar Pettiford (bass, cello A1-3), Candido & Sabu Martinez (bongo A1-3), Ray Bryant (piano A1-3), Sam Dockery (piano B1-3), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone B1-3), Bill Hardman (trumpet B1-3), Spanky DeBrest (bass B1-3)

Recorded

on June 25, 1956 and February 22, 1957 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York

Released

as CL1002 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
The Sacrifice
Cubano Chant
Oscalypso
Side B:
Nica’s Tempo
D’s Dilemma
Just For Marty


The album is made up of two sessions. Side A consists of exotic, Afro-Cuban rhythms and the flipside is a swell session of Blakey’s working band of the period consisting of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, trumpeter Bill Hardman, pianist Sam Dockery and bassist Spanky DeBrest. The first part (as well as the classy album cover) suggests that Art Blakey was eager to put Africa back into jazz. Yet, in drummer Art Taylor’s book of interviews Notes And Tones, (Da Capo, 1982) Blakey insisted that he has always felt that ‘our music has nothing to do with Africa. (…) No America, no jazz. (…) African music is entirely different, and the Africans are much more advanced than we are rhythmically, though we’re more advanced harmonically.’ In this view, which perhaps unintentionally ignores the impact of both Afro(-Cuban) rhythm and imported European musical standards on the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Drum Suite isn’t jazz but African music. Or better said, African music played by American men of jazz. But Blakey would know. The Pittsburgh-born drummer traveled in Africa for almost a year in 1949. By his own account, just listening, not drumming.

Tossing two sessions together on an album was a not uncommon practice in the classic jazz era. It could have a number of reasons. Sometimes, studio time ran out. And occasionally, musicians weren’t available anymore due to other obligations. Companies also might go for the easy way (and/or a fast buck), rounding out albums with sessions from the vault. Such albums usually lack coherence, an encompassing idea. Drum Suite is incoherent. But it’s a high quality affair, so who cares?

Beat happening! The Afro-Cuban tunes, wherein Blakey is assisted by drummers Jo Jones and Charles “Specs” Wright, the bongo’s of Candido and Sabu Martinez, bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Ray Bryant, sans horns, get you into the groove, no doubt. The aptly-titled The Sacrifice starts off with an indelible African backwoods chant, slowly but surely developing into a multi-layered rumble of toms, flavored with chubby chords and staccato lines by Ray Bryant. The tom-figure from the opening is repeated at the end. Interestingly, it’s reminiscent of the drum part in Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaratustra, which was used to such imposing effect in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 science-fiction movie 2001 A Space Odyssee.

Ray Bryant will undoubtly have been thrilled by the re-visit of his original tune Cubano Chant. Initially, Bryant had recorded it in 1956 on the Epic LP Ray Bryant Trio, including, coincidentally, Jo Jones and Candido. The broadened palette of instruments results in a piece of tough swing, highlighting Bryant’s inventive left hand, which generally puts emphasis on the low register and down-home fills that reach back to the era of swing, blues and stride. Staccato, swinging right hand lines weave in and out of Bryant’s left hand bottom. Bryant would revisit the uplifting Cubano Chant a number of times during his career. Finally, Oscar Pettiford’s Oscalypso ends the Afro-Cuban side on a groovy note. But three tunes in, the pounding percussion sounds of the basic calypso riff might start to get up one’s sleeve.

Part of an elite jazz family that brought Afro-Cuban music to the jazz realm, including Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Kenny Dorham, the Drum Suite-section is a convincing, spirited affair, and one of the first percussion-oriented jazz album sides. It’s a February 22, 1957 session. Just a while later, Blakey would expand on his percussion fetish on the Blue Note label, releasing Orgy In Rhythm, a date that was recorded in May and October, 1957, as well as Drums Around The Corner and Holiday For Skins in 1958.

Obviously, despite Blakey’s assesment of his own, ‘American’ style, Blakey’s drumming incorporated some African devices, such as the altering of pitch with the elbow, tangible rim shots, and multiple rolls on the toms: an armoury of effects to stimulate the soloists. Some of these assets, embellishing the signature Blakey style of a propulsive beat and thunderous polyrhythm, are present on the other session of Drum Suite, a date of December 13, 1956. They especially fill Bill Hardman’s fast-paced, swinging tune Just For Marty to the brim. It’s a top-rate session with vigorous blowing by Jackie McLean and a number of jubilant, fluent statements by Bill Hardman, an underestimated player with a delicious, sweet-sour tone.

Before Blakey gained widespread recognition with the Blue Note album Moanin’ in 1958, it was hard to make head or tail out of the drummer’s recording career, as Blakey recorded albums for a varying string of labels, including Vik, Jubilee, Bethlehem, Atlantic and Columbia. Yet, however disparate Blakey’s catalogue of that period between the early classic Jazz Messenger sides on Blue Note and successful comeback on the famous label in 1958 may be, it was of a continuous high level. The singular Drum Suite album is no exception.

Jackie McLean - A Fickle Sonance

Jackie McLean A Fickle Sonance (Blue Note 1961)

If Jackie McLean’s career would’ve ended right after recording A Fickle Sonance, people would certainly have pointed out the alto saxophonist’s development from one of Charlie Parker’s most proficient disciples to an alto saxophonist that made his mark with a series of excellent Blue Note recordings from 1959 to 1961, employing his highly emotional, piercing sound: already a great legacy. However, McLean raised the bars considerably the following years, breaking and entering hard bop’s living quarters with a series of vanguard recordings in cooperation with avantgardists like Ornette Coleman.

Jackie McLean - A Fickle Sonance

Personnel

Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Sonny Clark (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on October 26, 1961 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BLP 4089 in 1961

Track listing

Side A:
Five Will Get You Ten
Subdued
Sundu
Side B:
A Fickle Sonance
Enitnerrut
Lost


Fickle means ‘liable to sudden unpredictable change’. Sonance is an archaic synonym of ‘sound’. By calling his album and title track thus, McLean reveals to be a conscious commentator of the dual nature of both his own sound and style and jazz in general, which is all about surprise.

All Music states that ‘the playing’ on A Fickle Sonance ‘remained in a swinging, blues-oriented style, showing no hints of the direction his music was about to take’. Not entirely accurate. The title track certainly foreshadows McLean’s modal jazz. McLean’s solo in A Fickle Sonance borders on the abstract.

The angular quality of McLean’s lines and his probing, biting tone set McLean apart from his contemporaries. He’s a passionate player with a dark-hued sound, involving macabre, if occasionally frivolous overtones. A fickle sonance for sure. The way McLean lends substance to ballads was striking as well. McLean’s powerful statements on his original composition Subdued suggest a passionate singing voice.

Tunes like Sonny Clark’s Sundu, Tommy Turrentine’s Enitnerrut (Turrentine spelt backwards) and Butch Warren’s Lost fit into the ‘codified’ Blue Note message: deceptively effortless hard bop tracks from a rhythm section that would work together two weeks later on Sonny Clark’s splendid swan song as a leader, Leapin’ And Lopin’ on November 13, 1961.

Sonny Clark’s Five Will Get You Ten is more unusual. It’s a rip-off from one of Thelonious Monk’s unreleased cuts, Two Timer, that Clark presumably overheard Monk play and plagiarized in order to raise quick cash for his increasingly alarmous drug habits. (Monk never found out, but undoubtly would’ve forgiven the younger Clark, who was taken under his wings by Monk for quite a while at the famous jazz mecenas Nica “Pannonica” de Koenigwarter’s residence) Clark’s title arguably alludes to the drug scene; ‘five’ would be cash, ‘ten’ would be a certain amount of dope.

Who wouldn’t kill for an unreleased Monk track? It’s an alluring tune with a bridge that resembles Bemsha Swing and McLean jumps at the opportunity, alternating note-bending wails that stretch the boundaries of the melody line with rapid glissandos. Monk’s tune is fitting, since in A Fickle Sonance’s set of tunes, air and spaceousness are dominant features. To create a relaxed atmosphere while operating on a strikingly emotional as well as a highly proficient level is no small feat of Jackie McLean’s outstanding quintet.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!

Jackie McLean Destination… Out! (Blue Note 1963)

Nowadays, in a download, post-LP and virtually post-CD world, the order of album tracks has become devoid of meaning. Toying with eternal ‘favorite’ playlists is cool. but track order was an important factor defining the succes and artistry of an album. Clearly, what would’ve made stand-out alto saxophonist Jackie McLean’s progressive album Destination… Out! more significant than it already is, is a reversal of the opening tune, the telling, macabre mood piece Love And Hate, with the album’s up-tempo winner Esoteric.

Jackie McLean - Destination Out!

Personnel

Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Grachan Monchur III (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Larry Ridley (bass), Roy Haynes (drums)

Recorded

on September 20, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NYC

Released

as BLP 4165 in 1963

Track listing

Side A:
Love And Hate
Esoteric
Side B:
Kahlil The Prophet
Riff Raff


Esoteric is an intriguing piece that pushes the group to put its best foot forward. With the bulk of it consisting of short, stabbing breaks, solo space included, the group balances on a tight rope. Only experienced, smart and original cats are able to pull off such a thing and this group succeeds convincingly. Jackie McLean incorporates piercing, passionate hard-bop phrases into a characteristic modal structure.

Veteran and innovative drum legend Roy Haynes, who dates back to the era of Charlie Parker and was well-versed in swing as well as avantgarde, and who played on a staggering number of high-profile recordings, responds well to the ‘new thing’ trombonist and composer of three tunes out of four, Grachan Monchur III sets up. Haynes (nicknamed ‘Snap Crackle’) fervently includes a wealth of his trademark crisp snare rolls and demonstrates his mastery of the cymbal.

After writing as prolifically as Monchur III did during that period, it was inevitable that the trombonist found himself amidst avantgarde royalty and was given the chance to record as a leader. Monchur III’s Evolution, with both Jackie McLean and Bobby Hutcherson in tow, was recorded two months after Destination… Out! and is nowadays regarded as a royal achievement in its own right. His improvisations on the trombone on McLean’s album are uncommingly swift.

If the title of Esoteric gives you a clue to what kind of feeling this group likes to convey, McLean’s sole original Khalil The Prophet decidedly puts a lid on that puzzle. Although I, personally, regard writer and thinker Khalil Gibran, of which McLean apparantly, as well as millions of others, has been under the spell of, as a charlatan spouting nothing but quite infantile, easily digestible, pseudo-wise clichés, (what we Dutch commonly say, ‘selling fried air’) the result of that particular inspiration, I gladly admit, is pleasantly ethereal. The group sound, a peculiar and original mix of instrumentation, is lithe, conveying a buzz in the head of the listener on par with the joy of spring or lover’s goosebumps, whichever direction your senses’ antennae are pointing at.

The direction Jackie McLean took in the early sixties – mixing hard bop with modality – placed him squarely in the front line department of Blue Note as one of the major forces behind that label’s much admired stretch of hip-to-the-tip releases.