Arnett Cobb - Blow Arnett, Blow

Arnett Cobb Blow Arnett, Blow (Prestige 1959)

Tough tenors Arnett Cobb and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis team up for a thoroughly swinging session. Blow Arnett, Blow confirmed Cobb’s return to the scene after the tenor saxophonist’s long recovery of his car accident in 1956.

Arnett Cobb - Blow Arnett, Blow

Personnel

Arnett Cobb (tenor saxophone), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (tenor saxophone), Wild Bill Davis (organ), George Duvivier (bass), Arthur Edgehill (drums)

Recorded

on January 9, 1959 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PRLP 7151 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
When I Grow To Old To Dream
Go Power
Side B:
Go Red Go
The Eely One
The Fluke


Everybody who was present at Arnett Cobb’s performance at club Porgy & Bess in my hometown of Terneuzen, The Netherlands in 1986 is still talking about it. I’m told that many are walking around with goosebumps even now. It was an emotional evening. It was well-known that Cobb, on crutches, had been enduring severe pains throughout his life. Nonetheless, the good-natured Cobb blew the roof of the building. The club badly needed a renovation anyway.

Surely this was typical for clubs and audiences around the world. Cobb is always smiling broadly on album covers. And he was always ready to blow. Highly unlikely that the big-toned tenor saxophonist needed encouragement. So the title of the album may be superfluous, but it definitely was a bright idea from Prestige producer Esmond Edwards to couple Cobb with fellow tough tenorist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Bright and anybody’s guess, since Cobb hadn’t played for a few years, but it turned out to be a sparkling affair.

Arnett Cobb, from Houston, Texas, first gained recognition in Milt Larkin’s orchestra. Also in the reed chair were fellow Texans Illinois Jacquet and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Following up Illinois Jacquet in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, with Jacquet having provided a spectacular, successful and iconic solo in Flying Home, was quite a challenge but Cobb was a mainstay and the succes of the years between 1942 and 1947 of the Hampton band was unprecedented. Cobb’s career as a leader after leaving Hampton was unfortunately hampered by spinal pains and surgery in 1950. Cobb did write the music and lyrics of Smooth Sailin’ in 1951, which became a big hit for Ella Fitzgerald and which would be the title and title song of the follow-up album to Blow Arnett Blow. Despite the setback, Cobb’s group became very popular, particularly in the Mid-Western ‘chitlin’ circuit’ of clubs in the black community. Like other saxophonists who had come up through the swing bands, Cobb had formed a seven-piece band with a four-piece rhythm section including guitar, modeled after the groups of r&b pioneer Louis Jordan, Bull Moose Jackson and Wynonie Harris.

In 1956, Cobb was involved in a car accident. His legs were crushed. He was in and out of the hospital for nearly three years and needed crutches for the rest of his life. Regardless of his shortcomings, Cobb toured extensively in Europe in the seventies and eighties, to much acclaim. Cobb passed away in 1989.

Ever heard a bigger sound than that of Arnett Cobb? It’s huge. His stomping, meaty style lifts up from the ground When I Grow To Old To Dream and mid-tempo blues riffs like Go Red Go and The Fluke. The uptempo showstopper Go Power is the standout track. Cobb puts your back against the wall, barking, swinging, wailing with short, rotund notes. He’s a tireless boxer hitting the sack. His old buddy from the Milt Larkin band, influential organist Wild Bill Davis, chimes in with his typical orchestral voicings and lines, seemingly unaffected by the modern organ revolution of Jimmy Smith. The unique phrasing, the continuity of surprising ideas and wit of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis never fails to arouse spirits. More than a battle, the two commanding tenor saxophonists are involved in a playful wrestle match.

During the years of 1959/60, Cobb recorded seven albums for Prestige, some of which contained interesting pairings with pianists Bobby Timmons and Red Garland. It was the most fruitful period of Cobb’s career.

Gene Ammons - Bad! Bossa Nova

Gene Ammons Bad! Bossa Nova (Prestige 1962)

Throughout his spectacular career, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons had several big hits, both singles and albums. One of those albums, Bad! Bossa Nova, paved the way for soulful players intent on exploring Latin music.

Gene Ammons - Bad! Bossa Nova

Personnel

Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone), Hank Jones (piano), Bucky Pizzarelli (acoustic guitar), Kenny Burrell (acoustic guitar), Norman Edge (bass), Oliver Jackson (drums), Al Hayes (bongo)

Recorded

on September 9, 1962 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7257 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Pagan Love Song
Ca’ Purange
Anna
Side B:
Cae, Cae
Moito Mato Grosso
Yellow Bird


After organist Jimmy Smith, who was second to none as far as popularity and record sales was concerned, Gene Ammons was another very succesful artist of the soul jazz era. Ammons started out in the bands of King Kolax and Billy Eckstine in the mid-forties, the latter a playing ground for the burgeoning bebop generation of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro and Art Blakey. And Ammons, who knew his share of bebop. During his tenure with Eckstine, Ammons’ colleagues in the reed chair were Dexter Gordon, Leo Parker and Sonny Stitt. As a leader, Ammons gained a lot of public acclaim with the jumpin’ blues theme Red Top in 1947. The tenor saxophonist subsequently struck gold with the ballad My Foolish Heart in 1950, one of the tunes in the borderland of r&b and jazz (the distinction wasn’t as evident then as it is now) that many jazz artists of the day specialized in. During the years 1950-52, Ammons made up an explosive sax battle team with Sonny Stitt, whom he would keep recording with on and off through the sixties.

Ammons, the Chicago-born son of boogiewoogie master Albert Ammons, wasn’t about to slow down, if only by long, intermittent stints in jail for possession of drugs. Ammons has recorded for Savoy, VeeJay, Argo, but was part of the Prestige roster early on, an association that would continue throughout his career. His ‘HiFi’ jam albums of the late fifties with the likes of John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Mal Waldron and Art Taylor were attractive but curtailed the playing time of the big-toned tenorist. His style would come fully to the fore on the big-selling Boss Tenor in 1960, which spawned another jukebox hit, Canadian Sunset, as was Exactly Like You from 1961’s Jug album. The fruitful period 1960-1962 secured Ammons’s top ranking in soul jazz history. Bad! Bossa Nova is the last in line, since Ammons was convicted again, now also for selling drugs. It looked like the authorities wanted to set an example by sentencing the black jazz musician to seven years in jail. A great tragedy for Ammons and an utter disgrace which black people, unfortunately, have been all too familiar with. His comeback on Prestige in 1969 would be very successful. But his conditions worsened and Ammons passed away in 1974 at the age of forty-nine.

Unabashed emotion. A big sound that fills the (bar-)room. Excuse me? A soccer stadium! Great storytelling abilities. A tough tenor that wails with the best of ‘m but with controlled power. A prime balladeer. And a great entertainer. The title of Bad! Bossa Nova sounds about right. Bad it is. Ammons wholeheartedly funkifies the set of Latin-tinged tunes. If it doesn’t exactly consign Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba album, containing the hit Desafinado, released half a year earlier, to the litter bin, after a back-to-back spin Getz/Byrd’s album certainly comes across as shopping mall muzak. Both albums were big sellers, Jazz Samba foremost, but Bad! Bossa Nova sold large quantities in black neighbourhoods. A couple of years later, while Ammons was doing time, it was re-issued by Prestige as Jungle Soul and again sold extremely well!

Highlights are Ca’ Purange and Cae, Cae. Ca’ Purange (Jungle Soul), a simple recurring Latin figure, is a perfect canvas for Ammons’ bold strokes. His tone fills the sky, sparse, long lines and staccato honks stoke up the fire, which threatens to overrun the swamps, where Gene Ammons’ greasy, hypnotic soul groove is pulling you in anyway. A dense rhythm section including Kenny Burrell as acoustic rhythm guitarist lays down a colorful groove for Ammons, with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, also on acoustic guitar, occasionally chiming in with spicy licks. Hank Jones is an extra treat. The masterful pianist delivers deliciously swinging, delicate miniatures, pulling out all the happy-go-lucky stops with locked-hands technique and notes tumbling over each other like kittens reaching for the milk at the nipples of pussy mom in Cae Cae particularly. Hank Jones, early bebopper, modern jazz giant probably best known for his role on Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else, knows how to play popular music, having operated in the shadowlands of jazz and r&b in the early fifties, notably on organ. Gene “Jug” Ammons is a true master of blending sophistication with entertainment which Bad! Bossa Nova makes abundantly clear.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Idris Muhammad Black Rhythm Revolution! (Prestige 1971)

Laying down a propulsive groove was Idris Muhammad’s specialty. Funk jazz galore on the drummer’s debut as a leader, Black Rhythm Revolution!.

Idris Muhammad - Black Rhythm Revolution!

Personnel

Idris Muhammad (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet), Clarence Thomas (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Harold Mabern (electric piano), Melvin Sparks(guitar), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Buddy Caldwell (congas)

Recorded

on November 2, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 10005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Express Yourself
Soulful Drums
Superbad
Side B:
Wander
By The Red Sea


Idris Muhammad, formerly known as Leo Morris, wasn’t your average jazz drummer. To understand what Muhammad was about, it is best to describe him as a New Orleans drummer. It might not exactly explain why Muhammad became the penultimate jazz funkateer whose probing beat was a deciding factor in the artistic and commercial succes of the soul and funk jazz albums that rolled off the assembly line of Blue Note and Prestige in the late sixties and early seventies, which in my book comprise the lasting legacy of the drummer. But this way of looking at Muhammad does account for his versatility and eclectic career path.

Born in a family of brothers and a sister who all played drums, the young Leo Morris was fascinated by the Mardi Gras parades at an early age and would come to play professionally in marching bands at age nine. The Morris family was friends with the Neville family, that hardcore tribe of New Orleans Funk, and Leo was part of the Hawkettes, Art and Cyril Neville’s early incarnation of the legendary The Meters. Muhammad is the drummer on Fats Domino’s world-wide smash hit Blueberry Hill. At age sixteen! The promising drummer also gained experience performing and recording with Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Eddie Bo, Earl King, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams, King Curtis and Curtis Mayfield. Later in his career, Muhammad worked with Roberta Flack, George Benson and John Scofield. Nice resume, aye? Might not get you through math, but opens doors standing in front of St. Peter Of Soul.

It gets better. Jazz was a part of Muhammad’s upbringing early on, yet fully came to the fore during his stay in New York in the early sixties, when he gigged with Roland Kirk, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. His meeting with Lou Donaldson was a game changer. Lou Donaldson’s recording of Alligator Boogaloo in 1967, with Idris Muhammad on drums, set a trend of funky jazz with a hip, solid beat to it. The rest, as they say, is funk jazz history. Muhammad – who had converted to the muslim faith in the mid-sixties, appeared on subsequent Lou Donaldson albums as Midnight Creeper and Everything I Play Is Funky, Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation, Grant Green’s Carryin’ On, Charles Earland’s Black Talk!, Lonnie Smith’s Turning Point and many more commercially and artistically viable funk jazz albums.

1974’s more slick Power Of Soul on Kudu turned Muhammad into a hit maker (the hit, Loran’s Dance, eventually was sampled by the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique, in fact, Muhammad’s beats are all over the place in hiphop territory) and, to Muhammad’s astonishment, a disco king in the late seventies/early eighties. Simultaneously, Muhammad recorded prolifically and performed for years with adventurous contemporaries as Pharaoh Sanders (The B-side of Sanders’ 1968 album Jewels Of Thought, called Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah gives you an idea of their mutual interests and passions…) and, later in life, the virtuosic and innovating pianist Ahmad Jamal. Muhammad passed away on July 29, 2014 at the age of seventy-four.

If not exactly a revolution – let’s just reserve that term for the drum innovations of Kenny Clarke that shifted the jazz landscape from swing to bop in the late forties – Muhammad’s drum style was an important force in the late sixties return of jazz to a danceable vibe. The momentum that Muhammad develops during the course of a tune is crazy. Also very striking are Muhammad’s resourceful and greasy rolls, pushing and pulling his bandmates into ambiences they were heretofore unacquainted with. The guys on Black Rhythm Revolution! are infected by the joyful motion of Muhammad, with no antidote in sight. It might lack a soloist with the flair and experience of Lou Donaldson, but trumpeter Virgil Jones, in particular, shines through as a lively, hot player. A tight-knit outfit, Muhammad, bassist Jimmy Lewis and pianist Harold Mabern – heard on electric piano here – turn in a luscious slow drag like Express Yourself, the basic blues line Soulful Drums, a vehicle for Muhammad’s gritty improvisations, and the roaring, uptempo mover Wander. James Brown’s Superbad is as baaaaadass as it can get. Black Rhythm Revolution! is a badass album and delicious proof of Idris Muhammad’s unique style of drumming.

Sonny Rollins - Rollins Plays For Bird

Sonny Rollins Rollins Plays For Bird (Prestige 1957)

Sandwiched between the colossal Saxophone Colossus and future landmark albums Way Out West and A Night At The Village Vanguard, Rollins Plays For Bird is a mildly disappointing homage to Charlie Parker from, paraphrasing Gunther Schuller, the central figure of the erstwhile renewal of jazz.

Sonny Rollins - Rollins Plays For Bird

Personnel

Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Wade Legge (piano), George Morrow (bass), Max Roach (drums)

Recorded

on October 5, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PRLP 5097 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Bird Medley: I Remember You / My Melancholy Baby / Old Folks / They Can’t Take That Away From Me / My Little Suede Shoes / Star Eyes
Side B:
Kids Know
I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face


It would be hard to top the Colossus, of course. One of the classic jazz albums of all time, it displays Rollins at an early peak, inventing new possibilities for jazz and the tenor saxophone: the exuberant and structurally logic improvisation of Blue Seven, the knack of turning unconvential material like Moritat into simultaneously complex and accessible gems, the introduction of exotic (West-Indian) roots and rhythm in the unforgettable calypso tune St. Thomas (A tune credited to Rollins, but actually a traditional that was first recorded by Randy Weston as Fire Down There in 1955) and the exploration of the tenor’s full range in ballads like You Don’t Know What Love Is.

Little of that on Rollins Plays For Bird, a recording of the Sonny Rollins Quintet, which was actually the line-up of The Max Roach Quintet shortly after the passing of trumpeter Clifford Brown and pianist Richard Powell. It feels rather as if Rollins is treading water and not getting to the point one would hope for in the case of a tribute to one of his major musical forebears, Charlie Parker. The Bird Medley that takes up the full 23 minutes of side A does possess a relaxed, swinging vibe and a tacky structure where Rollins, Dorham and pianist Wade Legge subsequently guide us through the themes. Dorham’s sweet-tart tone and fluent, unhurried phrasing are assets. The confident flow of Rollins’ lines is evident, the finest moments coming when he playfully explores the low register of the tenor sax in They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

However, considering Bird, the choice of repertoire hardly does justice to the modern music giant. Indeed, Parker regularly played these tunes but one would expect songs that he wrote himself or configurations of standards that have become iconic. Moreover, a medium tempo (excluding a short double-time section) is maintained throughout, interspersed with formulaic theme-solo-theme sections and trading of fours between drums and soloists. Attention easily drifts elsewhere. Compared with the commanding title track of Freedom Suite, the cooperation of Rollins with Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford of five months later, a medley of varied Rollins originals that also takes up the whole of side A, the Bird Medley comes up a decisive second. In favor of the latter, it consisted of one spontaneous take, while the Freedom Suite was glued together from seperate tracks.

I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face is a solid if not extraordinary ballad rendition, and a common choice of Rollins, who otherwise was revered for digging up obscure or unlikely standards. The Rollins original Kids Know, like the medley also played in medium tempo, has a frolic, catchy theme. Alas, Max Roach, seemingly not in the best of moods, practically drags it to death.

Just one week later, the clouds parted considerably and the quintet (including Ray Bryant) delivered the sprightly, inspired album Max Roach + 4. Six months later, Rollins delivered on the promise of Rollins Plays For Bird with the A Night At The Village Vanguard album, reviving standards and Parker contrafacts with a level of spontaneity and experimentation that has set a standard to this day.

Considering a giant like Rollins, expectations run, and ran, high. In this respect, Rollins Plays For Bird underachieves considerably.

Eddie Daniels - First Prize

Eddie Daniels First Prize (Prestige 1966)

Eddie Daniels is a jazz saxophonist who turned into a master of classical music. Or no, Eddie Daniels is a concierto clarinetist who played modern jazz with the best of his generation. Well, yes on both counts but not exactly… At any rate, his 1967 recording debut as a leader on Prestige, First Prize, is a monster album.

Eddie Daniels - First Prize

Personnel

Eddie Daniels (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Roland Hanna (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

Recorded

on September 8 & 12, 1966 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7506 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
Felicidad
That Waltz
Falling In Love With Love
Love’s Long Journey
Side B:
Time Marches On
The Spanish Flee
The Rocker
How Deep Is The Ocean


Born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1941, Eddie Daniels started on alto at the age of 9, then studied clarinet on Juillard at 13. Daniels also mastered the tenor, soprano and baritone saxophone, as well as the flute. His first professional job was on tenor saxophone with clarinetist Tony Scott at the Half Note in the fall of 1965. Daniels filled a sax chair in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in the late sixties and early seventies, but it was on clarinet that Daniels first gained recognition as part of that highly acclaimed group, winning Downbeat Magazine’s New Star On Clarinet competition in 1966. Daniels developed into a virtuoso of both jazz and classical music, a rare accomplishment. Accolades from a certain duo of renowned ‘Leonards’ comprise ample proof of Daniel’s reputation:

Leonard Feather: ‘It is a rare event in jazz where one man can all but reinvent an instrument bringing it to a new stage of revolution.’

Leonard Bernstein: ‘Eddie Daniels combines elegance and virtuosity in a way that makes me remember Arthur Rubinstein. He is a thoroughly well-bred demon.’

Daniels was a sought-after player who was part of, subsequently, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1966-72 and the Bobby Rosengarden Orchestra, the house band of the Dick Cavett Show, from 1972-78. Onwards from the eighties, Daniels concentrated more and more on his clarinet work in classical music. His jazz discography includes side dates on Dave Pike’s The Doors Of Perception, Freddie Hubbard’s live album The Hub Of Hubbard, Don Patterson’s The Return Of Don Patterson, Yusef Lateef’s Ten Years Hence and George Benson’s Benson & Farrell. As a leader, Daniels followed up First Prize with the Japanese Columbia album This Is New. Further albums include A Flower For All Seasons, his 1973 cooperation on Choice with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, with whom Daniels would build a life-long association, 1988’s Memos From Paradise and 2013’s Duke At The Roadhouse.

In 1966, Daniels also won The International Competion For Modern Jazz on saxophone in Vienna, Austria. Hence, presumably, the title of his debut album. On First Prize, Daniels is supported by the rather unbeatable rhythm crew of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Richard Davis and Roland Hanna. Daniels is quite impossible to beat himself. A strong, alternately breathy and piercing tenor sound, which occasionally goes up to the alto register, facilitates an exuberant, flexible style that brings to mind Sonny Rollins and, to a lesser extent, John Coltrane. Clearly in utter control of the tenor, clearly laboring with love, Daniels playfully juggles with tender swing-era whispers and behind-the-beat slurs, perfect legato sections and ferocious forward motion flights and sheets of sound.

Latin-type tunes, like Felicidad and The Spanish Flee, start tenderly and breathy and end up squeezed out like blocks of oak wood in a shredder. It’s overwhelming, not so much because Daniels is showing his fists, but instead is in perfect command of his ferocity. The section in Felicidad in which the tumbling notes of Daniels ricochet off Hanna’s percussive chords is particularly enamouring. Just as well, Daniels relishes standards like Falling In Love With Love, developing a striking contrast between a partly slurred, rubato theme and a hi-octane bebop solo. Hanna chimes in with chubby, Silver-type chords and flowing right hand lines that reveal a definite liking for Bud Powell. The brush work of Mel Lewis carries the tune, it’s steady, holding in check toying Mr. Daniels, while simultaneously providing an almost ethereal sound carpet, like a lake of gentle gulves that roll upon the shore. Throughout the album, the rhythm trio is obviously having fun on a very high musical level.

On clarinet, Daniels is ambidextrous and imposing. Time Marches On employs a classical (overdubbed) theme, seguing into a gentle bossa tune. The Rocker reveals Daniels’ ability to bebop on the instrument, as he fills the uptempo burner with notes that bounce to and fro, much like pinballs that race through the limetless little halls and creviches of an Escher drawing. The organic, wooden sound of the clarinet and the lyrical and muscular lines of Eddie Daniels bring added depth to an album that was already very impressive as a modern tenor sax job. An overwhelming debut.

First Prize is not on Spotify or YouTube. however, Daniels’ version of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps from his second album, This Is New, (listen here) gives a good impression of his mastery of the tenor saxophone. Also on YouTube are a number of instructions that Eddie Daniels gave a couple of years ago as an endorser for Backun. Hear Eddie talk about the blues here, speed and agility here and his dexterity on reed, clarinet and woodwind here. Confident, witty, flexible, just like his music. A handsome man to boot, could’ve been George “Rosemary’s Nephew” Clooney’s older brother.

Miles Davis Quintet - Workin'

The Miles Davis Quintet Workin’ (Prestige 1956/59)

The first two cuts on Workin’ immediately show the impact of Miles Davis (and his First Great Quintet) on the evolution of jazz in the mid-fifties. Davis put the showtune It Never Entered My Mind in a moody package by way of his subdued, husky trumpet. The instant classic Four swings effortlessly but insistently. With a focus on expression, Davis distinctly shaped the kind of jazz labeled as mainstream or hard bop.

Miles Davis Quintet - Workin'

Personnel

Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on May 11 and October 26, 1956 at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey

Released

as PR 7166 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
It Never Entered My Mind
Four
In Your Own Sweet Way
The Theme (take 1)
Side B:
Trane’s Blues
Ahmad’s Blues
Half Nelson
The Theme (take 2)


When I was young, stupid, sloppy drunk and just about to metamorphose into a giant insect, I used to propagate the opinion that Miles Davis sounded like a door who had trouble creaking. I wasn’t quite fond of his (Harmon) mute sound. In hindsight, I’m sure it was also my cheeky, cynical way of questioning the overdone worship of the ‘Miles’ disciples. Guys in front of the stage begging for the styrofoam cup that Miles Davis drank from after finishing his take on Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time. Guys that wouldn’t have minded if Miles Davis’d filled it with some of his urinal artistry.

Regardless of the swagger, that door obviously did make a tentative attempt at showing off its creaking prowess. Arguably, the term ‘ugly beauty’, like the title of the Thelonious Monk tune, appropriately defines the muted Miles Davis sound as opposed to his open horn sound. Sometimes it hurts the ear. But that, perhaps, was the inevitable consequence of the goals that Davis set for himself. His acerbic, thin trumpet voice brings about a distinctive feeling. There’s more than a touch of hurt in the playing of Miles Davis, mingling with a distinct soft spot. Understated drama. Simultaneously, his sound has the utmost seductive quality as if it’s the voice of a loose woman peeping from behind a red velvet curtain… A slightly shabby woman, streetwise like any one con man on the corner. So there’s hurt, tenderness and a touch of seediness. More than anything else, listening to Miles Davis at his husky best is like being involved in a conversation of the utmost intimate level. Davis at his thinnest still annoys me from time to time. I wonder if anyone else has been having a beef with the nasal Miles Davis sound? At any rate, I do pretty well today as far as the muted Miles Davis is concerned. (Someday My Prince Will Come!) Times-a-changin’, people-a-changin’ and opinions and feelings seem to change by the minute nowadays. About the only thing that doesn’t change is the quality of Italian espresso.

Not being taken in immediately by the muted sound of Miles Davis, when Clark Terry, Donald Byrd or Dizzy Gillespie were somehow more accesible, the admiration for the notes and vision consequently took some time coming. There’s something to be said for a slowly developing admiration, ripening year after year, like the timbre of a grand piano. The clarity of his ‘voice’ and the way Miles Davis shaped phrases and usually concentrated on fewer, expressive notes, thereby cleverly making use of his strong, individual points, is enough to make one look back in awed wonder. In the mid fifties, starting off with 1954’s recording of Walkin’, Miles Davis breathed musical life into the motto of ‘less is more’ (which was first posed by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe in the 1930s), opening up jazz in an original, interesting direction for the second time in his career. Davis later claimed that he changed the course of jazz five or six times. Which makes sense but wasn’t entirely accurate.

The first milestone would be the Birth Of The Cool-session of 1949. Thereafter, the modal Kind Of Blue, the albums of his Second Great Quintet in the mid-sixties, the fusion of Bitches Brew, jazz rock of Jack Johnson and eighties crossover album Tutu are influential classics. They’re also cases in point that Miles Davis didn’t shake all this innovative stuff out of his sleeve as the sole master for all those years, but instead also relied on such brilliant vanguard colleagues like Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Teddy Charles, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Marcus Miller. It’s a notion that matches well with the theory that jazz innovations usually don’t come out of the blue, but are the result of a gelling of jazz spirits influencing one another with their simultaneous experiments. Furthermore, often some of these musicians got their ideas from cats they had never even met in (or outside) the studio, like for instance George Russell, or (modernist) classical composers. A valid theory. Superimposing his one-of-a-kind style over the contemporary developments, Miles Davis was crucial to let such profound changes in jazz come to full fruition. He was a catalyst with guts and vision. At the same time, due to his stardom, Davis became the face of that change for the general public.

Long before these kind of elaborate and almost stupefying discussions, in 1956, the one major upset was the signing of Miles Davis to major label Columbia. A big deal not only for Miles Davis but for the Afro-American community in general. Davis, under contract to Prestige, had the agreement that he could record for Columbia and get albums released once his Prestige contract expired. (The first Columbia release would be the Quintet’s 1957 album ‘Round About Midnight) To fulfill his obligations, Davis and Prestige label boss Bob Weinstock agreed to get it over with and record a couple of spontaneous cuts. The sessions of May 11 & October 26, 1956 led to the release of Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’. Great blowing sessions that showcased the exceptional abilities of everyone involved.

Although an easy way out, Bob Weinstock did took care of structuring the hodgepodge of tunes into a logical order of tracks. He included studio chatter, which was symbolic of the loose atmosphere. (the usage of the two short ‘Themes’, a common jazz practice to start and finish live performance sets, also contribute to that atmosphere) It’s impossible to subdue a smile when Miles Davis announces Trane’s Blues with his gruff, raspy voice. Davis and Coltrane have different ways of dealing with the blues. I feel that Coltrane’s confidence in this tune overshadows the tentative steps of Davis. Nevertheless, Davis’ blend of stacked blue notes and deadpan off-center turns is intriguing.

Davis had recorded Four for the first time two years earlier. It was released on the 10-inch Miles Davis Quartet (Prestige, 1954) and the 12-inch Blue Haze. (Prestige, 1956) The solo on that version is the one people have been crazy about ever since, and small wonder! (Listen Here) Miles Davis is also in very good form on the Workin’-version. Coltrane blows tough tenor, eschewing fast flurries of notes in favor of a more relaxed approach, undoubtly under the influence of Davis. Davis re-visits another tune, Half Nelson. It was initially recorded in 1947 under the guidance of Charlie Parker by the Miles Davis All Stars on a 78rpm Savoy single. (and subsequently under Charlie Parker’s name) The group suavely and swinging flies through the infectious uptempo bop tune.

Ahmad’s Blues – a tune by pianist Ahmad Jamal, who was a big influence on Davis at the time – is a showcase for the rhythm trio. Red Garland stretches out ebulliently on the 32-bar blues with his singular long lines and innovative block chord playing. Miles Davis was enamoured of the tune of another pianist, Dave Brubeck, and seized the opportunity to record In Your Own Sweet Way. Davis initially recorded the tune in March 1956. (Collector’s Items, Prestige) Brubeck recorded it in April, a month after Davis, a solo take on Brubeck Plays Brubeck (Columbia 1956) and a live quartet version appeared on Jay & Kay And Dave Brubeck At Newport. (Columbia 1956) Davis recorded the Workin’-version on May 11. He favored a minor mood over Brubeck’s classical approach and delivered an introspective, smoothly flowing take.

Of the sessions that were released as the Workin’/Relaxin’/Steamin’/Cookin’-albums Miles Davis coolly said: ‘We just came in a blew.’ That’s watertight. It wouldn’t be too much to add, however, that Miles Davis came in and blew in fresh, unique fashion.

Freddie Roach - The Soul Book

Freddie Roach The Soul Book (Prestige 1966)

Spacious. Avatara. Sounds pretty esoteric to me for a jazz organist, I remember thinking when I found a library cd of Freddie Roach’s The Soul Book light years ago. Fast forward to the present and here I sit with the original LP in hand. Quaint front cover. Roach sports a Zen-masterly grin and looks us in the eyes slightly mischievous. A modern-day Socrates? In any case, a man with a philosophical bend.

Freddie Roach - The Soul Book

Personnel

Freddie Roach (organ), Buddy Terry (tenor saxophone A1-A3, B1, B3), Vinnie Corrao (guitar A1-A3, B1, B3), Skeeter Best (guitar B2) Jackie Mills (drums A1-A3, B1, B3), Ray Lucas (drums B2), King Erisson (conga B2)

Recorded

on June 13 & 28 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as PRLP 7490 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Spacious
Avatara
Tenderley
Side B:
One Track Mind
You’ve Got Your Troubles
The Bees


Reading Roach’s narrative on ‘soul’ on the back cover, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Freddie Roach, alledgedly, also was a playwright and actor. Roach’s musical style certainly suggests a lot of thought behind his notes and tones of modern organ jazz.

Roach stepped into the limelight when tenor saxophonist and Blue Note A&R man Ike Quebec hired him for Quebec’s albums Heavy Soul and It Might As Well Be Spring in 1961. Solo albums followed on Blue Note, of which 1963’s Mo’ Greens Please featuring Kenny Burrell was particularly succesful. Roach showcased a laid-back, tasteful style and touch. In the mid/late sixties, Roach progressively brought to the fore his inherently groovy style.

The Soul Book, the first album of Roach on Prestige after his Blue Note period, includes a good example of Roach’s funky intentions: One Track Mind, a typical mid-sixties affair, a gritty boogaloo. Roach cooks and tenor saxophonist Buddy Terry mixes a charming swing feel with some tough Johnny Griffin-style tenor. The ballad Tenderly gets an heated midtempo treatment.

Black sheep in Roach’s soulful herd is pop tune You’ve Got Your Troubles. It’s taken from another session with a different line up including conga player King Erisson. It’s a generic calypso version. The Bees, the closer of the album, is better. The quirky blues theme is bound to put a smile on your face and the uptempo shuffle inspires guitarist Vinnie Corrao (who played with organist Don Patterson before hooking up with Freddie Roach) to deliver hot and articulate phrases and Freddie Roach to build a splendid tale that goes from quiet swing to fire alarm.

Spacious and Avatara, however, are the album’s highlights. Avatara is a bittersweet, moody piece which, Roach explains, ‘is the wedding of cosmic and conventional, (…) the background music from a dream I once had.’ Buddy Terry shows great command of the tenor, conjuring velvet pleasantries and haunting, whispering, yearning sighs and squaks. I would like to hum the tune to my kid daughter at least twice a day while smothering her with hugs and kisses. I should. If only she wouldn’t prefer girl groups to jazz and hate the touch of my prickly beard. Hey baby, I’ve been sporting this stubble face ever since I got out of high school, be glad I don’t wear one of those hip Santa Claus affairs.

The mid-tempo Spacious is my favorite track. It’s one of those compositions that combine relaxed swing with an elaborate outlay, like Eddie Harris’ version of Ernest Gold’s Theme From Exodus, also a tune that remains glued to your mind forever. It’s a free-flowing tune with an infectious, ephemeral theme. Exuding a vibe that makes you warm although you’re out standing in the cold. Roach develops a solo that excludes well-worn gimmicks but instead piles articulate phrase upon phrase like a toddler stacks Lego cubes. A search for new vistas.

Intriguing, to say the least.