Randy Weston - Jazz A La Bohemia

Randy Weston Jazz A La Bohemia (Riverside 1956)

As if you’re there. That’s the plain and simple first, but very important thing, that comes to mind when listening to Randy Weston’s live album from 1956, Jazz A La Bohemia.

Randy Weston - Jazz A La Bohemia

Personnel

Randy Weston (piano), Cecil Payne (baritone sax), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass), Al Dreares (drums)

Recorded

on October 14, 1956 at Café Bohemia, New York City

Released

as RLP 12-232 in 1956

Track listing

Side A:
Theme: Solemn Meditation
Just A Riff
You Go To My Head
Once In A While
Side B:
Hold ‘M Joe
It’s All Right With Me
Chessman’s Delight
Theme: Solemn Meditation


Names with a pleasant and catchy ring seep through the rubble and kibble of contemporary society, wastebasket of incontinent billionaires, hemorrhaging parliaments, promoting slices of life that fail to imitate even the best of the bad movies. Names like… “Bohemia”. You know what I’m talking about, Club Bohemia. One of the places that housed icons almost 24/7, that voiced eloquent and fiery statements of protest through the curled shreds of smoke, not by any forced attempt but by plainly being themselves, individually and as a group, still as a subculture and perhaps almost a sect, a gathering of astute Bohemians… non-conformists… by being masters of a unique American art form that the establishment would rather ignore but which by sheer force of beauty proved impossible to subdue. Club Bohemia, you know… where Cannonball Adderley burst on the scene in 1955, where one of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ declarations of independence was recorded.

And Bohemia as in: Randy Weston’s Jazz A La Bohemia, recorded on October 14, 1956 in Greenwich Village, NYC. Weston himself was, and particularly would be as time progressed, a voice to be reckoned with. Instilled with a sense of the African heritage of American black people by his father at a young age, Weston thrust himself into African rhythm as early as 1960, releasing the eponymous Uhuru Africa and kept exploring this well for the rest of his life, to much acclaim.

In 1956, Randy Weston was a slightly Monkish pianist from Brooklyn, NYC, neighborhood that spawned Max Roach and Cecil Payne, among many others. By his own account, Weston would add that slightly Monkish, of course, means African by descent as well, notwithstanding the mingling with European harmony and such. By all means, Weston definitely was Monkish. Except for the hat wear and the height – Weston must be the tallest jazz man in jazz history, close to Scotty Pippen, and would’ve made a great match with Jack Teagarden, who was about the height of Larry Bird – Weston’s subversive timing, dissonant inklings and percussive attack is reminiscent of The High Priest.

Weston was part of the Riverside Records roster from April 27, 1954. Thelonious Monk signed a contract with Riverside in 1955, Plays Duke Ellington being the pianist’s first session in July 21. By then, Weston had recorded four records for Orrin Keepnews/Bill Grauer’s label. Perhaps, considering his indebtedness to Monk, Weston decided it would be best to seek new vistas. Anyway, Weston and Riverside went their separate ways and the pianist freelanced his way to the tail end of the decade on Dawn, Jubilee, United Artists, Roulette and Atlantic.

Club Bohemia… Weston and his men: Cecil Payne on baritone, Ahmed Abdul-Malik (born Jonathan Tim, Jr.) and Al Dreares on drums. You’re there. It’s a warm valley… a blanket thrust upon your shoulders when you have entered the perimeter soaking wet from the rain… Much of the album’s charming immediacy is, I think, on account of the mix of Payne’s sonorous baritone, Malik’s pumping, resonant bass and Weston’s focus on mid-register tones. Payne barks but is sing-song-y by nature as well. He has a lot of breathing room with the absence of trumpet or fellow sax. All by himself, at ease like a guy who pumps gas for a living and has a day off, working on the carburetor of his ’56 Packard…

Weston is a master of suspense. The mid-tempo groove Just A Riff, a simple but original riff by Weston, finds him in a playful mood. Weston’s strength lies in his ability to compose while playing, a coherent mingling and stacking of motives. He alternates between staccato fireworks and lingering romantic notes during his exercise of the wonderful ballad You Go To My Head, a pretty naughty affair. Hold ‘M Joe is pure Latin/Mex – sophisticated – party fare. Chessman’s Delight is another one of Weston’s delicious riffs with a hot, boppish bridge and simultaneous old-timey feel straight from Teddy Wilson’s era, complete with Weston’s deceptively simple shenanigans from one side to the keyboard to the other in split seconds.

It’s up there with Wes Montgomery’s Full House – also on Riverside – as one of those live albums full of great atmosphere and musicians that are clearly reveling in each other’s company, much to our delight.

Junior Mance - Junior's Blues

Junior Mance Junior’s Blues (Riverside 1962)

Things do not always happen as they should. To be sure, they rarely if ever do! However, pianist Junior Mance, one of the greatest blues pianists in jazz, was destined to record an album of blues tunes. That album was Junior’s Blues, released by Riverside in 1962.

Junior Mance - Junior's Blues

Personnel

Junior Mance (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums)

Recorded

on February 14, 1962 in New York City

Released

as RLP 447 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Down The Line
Creole Love Call
Rainy Morning Blues
Yancey Special
Gravy Waltz
Side B:
Cracklin’
In The Evening
Blue Monk
The Jumpin’ Blues


As a blues man among modern jazz pianists, Mance is perhaps equaled only by Gene Harris and Ray Bryant. Les McCann is a favorite of personal assistants, runners and restroom ladies of Flophouse Corp. and, last but not least, yours truly, head honcho of the Flophouse Magazine headquarters, which some of you may consider plainly an attic, but for me is nothing short of the main boardroom, resplendent with everything the modern-day (or old-fashioned, depending upon your view) chief editor needs. Because it really is not plain. There’s a lovely wooden desk. A side table that carries glasses and a bottle of 12 year-old Red Breast pot still whiskey from Ireland. A weathered Chesterfield chair for comfortable listening purposes. And records of course, the weight of which threatens to destroy the town house’s construction, much to the dismay of two of its main occupants, my wife and kid daughter, undeniably the most kindred and faithful souls I have had the pleasure to encounter in this earthly existence. Three if you count the cat. Wife and child can’t help it and aren’t into jazz. Cat couldn’t care less. She’s a country girl. Mice and kibble is her main concern, notes and tones are phenomena from another dimension.

It goes without saying, we’re not running a blues competition. McCann’s earthy, driving style, Gene Harris’ subtle variations on a theme, Ray Bryant’s striking incorporation of the tradition are all contagious. I’m sure there are a number of pianists that you feel shouldn’t be left out. Oscar Peterson perhaps, or Mose Allison. And Junior Mance? Man, there’s just no end to the enjoyment of the long, clever and exciting lines that he spun!

Mance was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1928, learned to play stride and boogie-woogie from his father, spent his youth in Chicago. By the late forties, Mance had recorded with Gene Ammons on Alladin and Lester Young on Savoy. Cannonball Adderley, ever the keen organizer even at a young age, recruited Mance for his Army band in the early 50s. Mance was part of the house band of Chicago’s Beehive club and backed Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Trusting the advice of Bird, Mance moved to New York City in the mid-50s. He accompanied Dinah Washington for two years. Mance subsequently hooked up again with Cannonball Adderley and cooperated fruitfully with the recently arrived alto saxophonist on the New York scene on many albums on EmArcy. Mance’s features on the Riverside albums of the Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis outfit in the early 60s are notable as well.

The debut of Junior Mance was on Verve in 1959. Mance was part of the Dizzy Gillespie group and producer Norman Granz granted Mance the opportunity to record a solo album: Junior. Mance subsequently recorded five albums for Riverside/Jazzland: The Soulful Piano Of Junior Mance, At The Village Vanguard, Big Chief, The Soul Of Hollywood, Junior’s Blues and Happy Time. Definitely the series that made his name and kick started his career, a very fruitful one at that. All of them contain a mixture of standards and lesser-known standards imbued with blues feeling as well as pure blues tunes. Great stuff. I decided to highlight Junior’s Blues. It is a set of relatively straightforward blues music. Because of its simple harmonic framework, there’s no place to hide for the performer thus takes some doing and daring.

Mance succeeds summa cum laude, no sweat. The set list contains Mance originals Down The Line, Rainy Morning Blues and Cracklin’, Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk, Leroy Carr’s In The Evening, Jay McShann/Charlie Parker’s The Jumpin’ Blues, Steve Allen/Ray Brown’s Gravy Waltz and Maede Lux Lewis’ Yancey Special. Mance treats us to layered stories punctuated by his unfailing beat, flawless articulation and confident attack. It is surprising how much ideas the pianist produces chorus after chorus. His phrases are skilled but not studied and his bold lines stretch bars and are underlined by witty, decisive bass figures. His playing is simultaneously from the gut, the heart and the brain!

The lithe groove of Down The Line and The Jumpin’ Blues and the roar of Yancey Special are standout moments of pleasure. I’m particularly enamored by the eloquent Gravy Waltz. Mance’s soft-hued lyricism equates to the growth of roses and dahlias from your chest. The crisp, unfettered backing by Bob Cranshaw and Mickey Roker solidifies Mance’s flamboyant and tasteful art of the blues. Not a note or accent is wasted.

Junior Mance suffered from a stroke in 2012, which led to Alzheimer’s Disease and gradual mental decline. There has been a documentary in the making about Mance and his wife Gloria for quite a while now, Sunset And The Mockingbird, produced by Jyllian Gunther and Adam Kahan. The project needs more funding for its completion. You can donate on Kickstarter here.

Dave Pike - It's Time For Dave Pike

Dave Pike It’s Time For Dave Pike (Riverside 1961)

It’s time for Dave Pike, Charlie Parker on vibes.

Dave Pike - It's Time For Dave Pike

Personnel

Dave Pike (vibraphone), Barry Harris (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)

Recorded

on January 30 & April 9, 1961 at Plaza Sound Studio, New York City

Released

as RLP 360 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Cheryl
On Green Dolphin Street
It’s Time
Hot House
Side B:
Forward
Solar
Little Girl Blue
Tendin’ To Business


Again, Flophouse is drawn towards the turn of that decade, a pivotal, transitional period of jazz. It’s January 1961, the past year and a half the jazz world has been shaken up by Kind Of Blue, Giant Steps and the first Ornette Coleman albums. The back-to-the-roots concept of Horace Silver and the blues-drenched organ style of Jimmy Smith are in full swing. In label-terminology: modal jazz, post-bop, free jazz, hard bop and soul jazz. To be sure, labeling is artificial, perhaps in equal measure an invention devised for explanation and marketing. But jazz is not a file that you put in a grey locker. It is a gelling of personalities and innovations.

Keyword: interconnection. However, by 1961, the label left out above, ye old bebop, was by no means exhausted, even if this was what some critics were prone to conclude at the time. You’re just a Parker-ite was a condemnation suitable for half-talents but too easily casted upon excellent players. It is not to be taken too badly. The critics had to drive through the tornado of change. We have the big picture. And in the hands of the major league, bebop was, five years after the passing of Charlie Parker, fresh as a daisy, sprightly as a little lamb in Spring. We have a number of major league personalities on It’s Time For Dave Pike. First and foremost, the leader of the date, Dave Pike. Influenced by Milt Jackson, equally virtuosic and a great interpreter of the blues, Pike went a long way to gain popularity with bossa albums and the odd psychedelic pie – The Doors Of Perception – in the sixties and experimented with other genres in the early seventies. However, Pike eventually returned to his straight-ahead roots for the remainder of his career.

Pre-eminently, Barry Harris. One would be hard-pressed to find a session where the Detroit-born pianist was involved in that didn’t quite work out. He’s like a weathered soccer player that functions as both coach and captain in the field, blessed with instinct for the perfect pass and the mental helicopter view to balance the team’s tactics. Then there’s Reggie Workman, already a strong personality on bass and drummer Billy Higgins, who was becoming an influential hard bop drummer while also being engaged in Ornette Coleman’s free extensions of the jazz language.

Well-executed bop is far from the stereotypical nerve-wracking abracadabra. Pike’s group serves well as ambassador of bop’s beauty on It’s Time For Dave Pike. Pike’s clarity of line and urgent swing do justice to Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, Tadd Dameron’s Hot House, Miles Davis’s Solar and the title tune by Pike, It’s Time. The breakneck speed of Pike’s Forward is acted upon brilliantly by Pike and Harris, On Green Dolphin Street‘s fluency and Workman’s fat, bouncy bass lines catch the ear, while Pike slows down proceedings with a lush solo reading of Little Girl Blue.

The enchantment of Cheryl remains present after repeating spins. It flows remarkably gently along, like calming waves that touch the Atlantic shore… A floating, natural rhythm. Pike takes a dive, brightly alternates front crawl with the butterfly. The chords and lines of Harris work like glue, keeping together the multi-faceted phrases of Pike, trading suggestions of harmonic direction with the receptive Workman and Higgins. Harris sneaks a wonderful, exuberant glissando in his typically thoughtful solo tale. If it weren’t for soccer, Harris would’ve become a maestro pattisiér, staying close to the recipe of his father while putting all kinds of detailed cherries on top. Perfect combination with the round, ringing sound of Pike, who audibly hums along with his crystal clear lines. A human voice wrung out of metal, the mallets harbingers of bebop soul with immaculate timing.

Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff regularly played with Dave Pike, who was discussed during his interview with Flophouse a couple of years ago. As far as De Graaff is concerned, It’s Time For Dave Pike was nothing short of “Charlie Parker on vibes!”. Bop master De Graaff, who semi-retired recently, pointed towards a vibraphone that stood beside the baby grand in his music room and said, “that’s the vibraphone Pike played on It’s Time. He gave it to me as a gift.” His friend had passed away six months before our interview.

You could hear a pin drop.

Johnny Griffin - Grab This!

Johnny Griffin Grab This! (Riverside 1962)

Who knows what Johnny Griffin meant by calling his tune and album Grab This!. It might be jazz slang we’re not familiar with. Sounds positively like the equivalent of Up Yours!. Signifying the front instead of the rear end, to be sure. Regardless, ‘grab this’ is the only possible advice to real jazz customers. The tenor saxophonist’s 1962 Riverside album, coupling him with organist Paul Bryant, is one of the grittiest in his book.

Johnny Griffin - Grab This!

Personnel

Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Paul Bryant (organ), Joe Pass (guitar), Jimmy Bond (bass), Doug Sides (drums)

Recorded

on June 28, 1962 at Pacific Jazz Studio, Los Angeles

Released

as RLP 437 in 1962

Track listing

Side A:
Grab This!
63rd Street Theme
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
Side B:
Offering Time
These Foolish Things
Cherry Float


Label owner Orrin Keepnews liked Johnny Griffin very much. On the advice of Thelonious Monk, he had tried to sign “The Little Giant” in 1956, but Blue Note had been a step ahead. Griffin’s sparse but impressive stint at Blue Note consisted of three albums, A Blowing Session with John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey being the absolutely epic standout. In 1958, Keepnews finally got hold of Griffin and offered him plenty opportunity to excel, placing him in differing contexts, from quintet to big band, from straightforward repertoire to folk or gospel concepts. (The Kerry Dancers, Big Soul Band) Simultaneously, Griffin recorded a string of tough tenor albums on the Riverside subsidiary label Jazzland with fellow tenorist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. As a result of Riverside’s bankruptcy in 1963, Griffin’s stretch with the label came to an end. Griffin, who had started with Lionel Hampton in the 40s, cooperated with Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey in the 50s, recorded prolifically as a leader but, embittered about the underappreciation of mainstream jazz at the expense of free jazz, settled in Europe, where he stayed for the rest of his life, one of the icons of hard bop tenor.

It was hard to compete with Johnny Griffin, monster tenor saxophonist, who really could bop someone in the ground at the breakneckest of tempos, meanwhile keeping clarity of line, double-timing with the hellhound on his trail. But obviously he was not just a technician, but instead a melodist that sincerely interpreted a song. Most of all, he was full of Charlie Parker and full of blues, a lava burst of indelible, wailing notes. Griffin was a lively, entertaining personality on stage, especially later in his career onwards from the 70s, whose relentless bop fests and meaty ballads were of a consistently high level and wildly exciting.

Coming from Chicago, it was natural for Griffin to put groove to good use. There’s no shortage of it on his next to last Riverside session, Grab This!, which also featured organist Paul Bryant, guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Doug Sides, musicians who were working on the West Coast at the time. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and Griffin, veteran of the bands of Joe Morris, T-Bone Walker, Arnett Cobb, spreads an abundance of grease on the bright yellow soccer ball that was hanging above the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. Likely, Griffin was in L.A. to perform, met a bunch of fine musicians, called Orrin Keepnews, ‘Say Keeps, want me to do a session with these cats? About time for a greasy affair, right!’

No complaints about the blues tunes that Griffin used for the occasion, particularly considering the meaty backing of drummer Doug Sides and the especially responsive accompaniment of organist Paul Bryant. Bryant is exceptional. He’s not just your run-of-the-mill-grinder, but instead accompanies responsively and uses a lot of space in his solos. The B3 sounds gutsy, in-your-face. Moreover, Bryant’s variation of sounds is striking. He contributes a gospel-tinged tune, Offering Time. In it, guitarist Joe Pass, who recorded on quite a number of soul jazz sessions before becoming a big name, and quite expertly and gritty too, quotes Things Ain’t What They Used To Be during his solo. Blues-based tunes are especially attractive breeding grounds for quotes and Paul Bryant had his say as well during Griffin’s flagwaver, Cherry Float, suavely embellishing his Hammond organ tale with a fragment of Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-A-Ning.

Griffin breathes, quite literally too, life into the ballads Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and These Foolish Things. He’s having fun with the blues, juxtaposing bop clusters with belligerent shouts during his original tunes 63rd Street Theme and Grab This!. Grab This! is especially cool. Actually, it’s a definite ‘up yours’ to safe playing. Griffin’s phrases refreshingly pop out of the changes like the cork out of a champagne bottle, not once but over and over. Jazzy New Year. At the end of the party, Griffin somehow, a bit wobbly from the booze and dizzy from the firecrackers, lands on his feet. Bit of risk taking won’t hurt. Makes it all the more worthwhile. Got enough accountants already. There are no accountants on Grab This!, unless you count Orrin Keepnews, who counted the money and was finished awfully quick, having to file for a bankruptcy together with his associate Bill Grauer soon after. Nothing to be ashamed of. And lest we forget, Keepnews came back doggedly and successfully a couple of years later with Milestone records.

Full album on YouTube here

Clark Terry - Serenade To A Bus Seat

Clark Terry Serenade To A Bus Seat (Riverside 1957)

Clark Terry, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 95, was an authority with a discography of epic proportions. In 1957, already a veteran of swing who had mentored rising stars like Miles Davis in the 40s, the trumpeter made a superb hard bop album with Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, the Riverside label’s Serenade To A Bus Seat.

Clark Terry - Serenade To A Bus Seat

Personnel

Clark Terry (trumpet), Johnny Griffin (tenor saxophone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 27, 1957 at Reeves Sound Studio, New York

Released

as RLP 12-237 in 1957

Track listing

Side A:
Donna Lee
Boardwalk
Boomerang
Digits
Side B:
Serenade To A Bus Seat
Stardust
Cruising
That Old Black Magic


Before turning into an internationally renowned figure through his seat in the orchestra of NBC’s The Tonight Show in the 60s, his vocal hit Mumbles, lauded appearances around the globe and a distinguished position as youth educator and (co-)founder of Jazz Mobile and the Clark Terry Jazz Festivals for the rest of his life, Terry already had a timelessness about him that is striking. He encompassed the best traits of the past while being in sync with the conception of the modernists, using his technical brilliance and vast knowledge of what one can achieve with the trumpet to the telling of meaningful stories. Not a term usually associated with the abundant Terry, he actually set a limit to himself in this regard, displaying effects and humor when it was called for by Duke Ellington for a certain compositional story to tell, or when he expressed his feelings as a sideman (Oscar Peterson Trio + One is an outrageous ball, but a structured and hi-level festivity) and leading artist, mostly feelings of distinct joy.

His long stint in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 50s was preceded by years with Count Basie in the 40s, and Terry was a featured, singular soloist in both classic bands. Nice resume. In fact, in 1957 Terry had just left Ellington, with a number of classic recordings in his hip pocket, notably Ellington Uptown, Such Sweet Thunder and At Newport. His tenure with Riverside was interesting. Serenade, his debut as a leader on Riverside, was preceded by a feature on Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners in 1956. It was followed by Duke With A Difference in July ’57, a gem of an album, featuring mates from the Duke Ellington band including Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Billy Strayhorn and, as the title suggests ironically, without Duke Ellington. He would add a couple more guest roles on Riverside such as Jimmy Heath’s Really Big and Johnny Griffin’s White Gardenia, but the most notable album is his own 1958 album In Orbit with Thelonious Monk, which is the only album including Monk as a sideman and set the standard of the use of flugelhorn in jazz.

The late Orrin Keepnews, label boss of Riverside together with Bill Grauer, looked back on a number of favorite releases a number of years ago, as can be seen on YouTube here. Serenade, Clark Terry’s second foray in small ensemble jazz after EmArcy’s Swahili, was among them, representing a masterstroke of bringing together Terry with the small ensemble hot shots of the day: “I always refer to Terry as Mr. Pulled Together. He is so tremendously talented, a nice guy, and he had that big band discipline in his life. (…) It was a very relaxed, and therefore, creative atmosphere. If you bring together musicians who have in a sense been rehearsing for years by playing with each other at lots of opportunities, that’s a very good way to get around that problem (of short rehearsing time)…”.

With a distinctive tone like Terry’s, brassy, virile, tart and full-ringing, consisting of a festive, good-humored quality, the equilibrium between calling-the-children-home and chasing-the-kids-away neatly in check, contrast with the other horn is assured. In comes Johnny Griffin, maybe not such a fast gun as one always assumes, fast, yes, but on this session intent on subtle conversations. Their ensembles sparkle, lock tight during uptempo bop tunes like Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee, Terry’s Boomerang and Serenade To A Bus Seat. It would be obvious to assume that the latter’s title alludes to the bus seat Rosa Parks bravely took on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott from Reverend Martin Luther King, a painful yet effective protest that eventually led to desegregation in the state’s public transport system. Clark Terry was from St. Louis, Missouri, where the NAACP protested against segregation in war factory jobs, a case it won through Shelly vs. Kraemer in the US Supreme Court, a feat Terry surely must’ve been conscious of, having been a bandsman in the Navy during WWII. That scenario sees Terry’s jubilant trumpet doing a good job of honoring Ms. Parks, Martin Luther King and the others who’d made the boycott possible. But it’s more prosaic. The liner notes explain that the title refers to the tiresome days Terry spent in the band bus of Basie and Ellington. Still no shortage of hardships along the road in The South though, as far as racism is concerned, lest we forget.

For Griffin and Kelly, Serenade represented their first appearances on the Riverside label.
The typical hard bop set of Serenade benefits from variation in the order of soloing, for instance during Donna Lee, when Griffin takes first cue and Terry follows trading fours with Philly Joe Jones. Not a pedestrian phrase in sight, the session cooks and runs remarkably smooth, courtesy of Griffin, the tasteful Paul Chambers, who had the kind of intuitive bass genius few possessed at that age, Philly Joe Jones (one rarely hears a session involving Philly Joe Jones that isn’t gutsy and fiery!) and Wynton Kelly, whose balanced, hip and barrelhouse-y lines of the title track are a treat. The leader, Clark Terry, enlivens the I-Got-Rhythm-changes of Boomerang with phrases that dance naughtily from mid-to upper register. It’s a virtuosic, happy tale and the originality is enhanced by the delicious, sustained notes in between. Terry stresses the cooperative spirit during the easy-flowing mid-tempo Digits, ad-libbing behind Griffin and calms the stormy weather that Griffin set in motion during Serenade with just a few peaceful stretch of notes, only to regain steam for the finale, getting into the fast lane with a spontaneous wail.

Gutsy calmness also during Stardust, a sign of the exciting style of Terry, diamond in the rough with a heart of gold. He’s a bluesman too, playing poker with notes veering from high to low and back. Boardwalk is the album’s blues line with a New Orleans feel and once again Clark Terry is like honey and mustard seeping through the walls of doom, no stopping it, the redeeming quality of Terry’s blues, a blues perhaps only mildly sardonic, always residing at the forefront. Down by the Riverside, his blues resembles that of his (and everybody’s) great ancestor, Louis Armstrong.

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.

Wes Montgomery Trio - A Dynamic New Sound

Wes Montgomery The Wes Montgomery Trio: A Dynamic New Sound (Riverside 1959)

Adding ‘Style’ to Wes Montgomery’s debut album on Riverside, The Wes Montgomery Trio: A Dynamic New Sound, is more to the point. It constitutes the arrival of a guitar giant.

Wes Montgomery Trio - A Dynamic New Sound

Personnel

Wes Montgomery (guitar), Melvin Rhyne (organ), Paul Parker (drums)

Recorded

on October 5 & 6 at Reeves Sound Studio, NYC

Released

as Riverside 1156 in 1959

Track listing

Side A:
‘Round Midnight
Yesterdays
The End Of A Love Affair
Whisper Not
Ecaroh
Side B:
Satin Doll
Missile Blues
Too Late Now
Jingles


Of this album, All Music says: ‘The only drawback is that the accompaniment, which though solid, doesn’t seem to perfectly match his guitar style… Montgomery’s performance was a revolution in technique and execution.’

That about sums it up. For readers of All Music and Ladies Home Journal. Nobody’s perfect and there must be more to the event of Montgomery’s marvelous recording debut on Riverside, released in the watershed year of 1959, which saw the release of three Ornette Coleman albums, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Coincidentally, Wes Montgomery declined an offer from John Coltrane to join his group. Instead, he built on the promise The Wes Montgomery Trio held, securing a spot on the scene through his Riverside recordings as the greatest jazz guitar innovator since Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, a promise that was underlined first and foremost by Montgomery’s supple synthesis of single note lines, octave playing and block chords, effectively blown into studio and jazz club air by his distinctive, is-that-a-country-blues-picker’s?-thumb-touch, but certainly also by the subtle interaction of his group of childhood pals from Indianapolis, consisting of organist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker, who’d grown into a tight-knit, mutually responsive outfit.

In his twenties, Montgomery landed a job with Lionel Hampton when the famed bandleader heard him copying Charlie Christian solo’s note by note, performed with his brothers Buddy and Monk regularly as the Montgomery Brothers and was featured on Kismet on Pacific, the LP of his brothers’ outfit The Mastersounds. Montgomery was noticed by a tongue-tied Cannonball Adderley in a Indy club, who introduced him to Riverside’s Orrin Keepnews, leading to a breakthrough at the ripe age of 36. The word that fits the impact of Wes Montgomery is: spellbound. Come on, from the moment Montgomery starts Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, the audience is melting, unable to resist the lure of Montgomery’s tasteful tale. In the confident hands of Wes, the micro-fragment of total silence marking the middle of Monk’s classic melody appears to be born for exactly that spot. The use of space, his timing, coming across especially enticing in his wonderful treatments of ballads, is one of Montgomery’s greatest talents.

In this sense, Rhyne is a perfect match to Montgomery’s classy style. His clear, logically developing lines and ‘plucky’ sound grace the bouncy, uptempo stop-time melody of the Montgomery composition Jingles, a swinging trio rendition. And to reciprocate Rhyne’s favor of charming, responsive backing, Montgomery smoothly accompanies the organist’s solo in The End Of A Love Affair, flowing from chord to chord like a pike-perch through the river weeds. The group’s take on Horace Silver’s Ecaroh is less spectacular, a medium-tempo groove that somehow doesn’t really gets into the groove, with, nonetheless, concise, excellent soloing.

Montgomery would reach the zenith of his recording career with the support of world-class guys like Johnny Griffin, Louis Hayes, Sam Jones, Wynton Kelly, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson (Bags Meets Wes – wow – Full House – WOW) yet the total sum of The Montgomery Trio spells swing as well. At the core’s the style and sound of Montgomery, with a bite all his own. A fiery personality would be the incorrect way to describe Wes Montgomery- ringing through the articulate phrases is a man that didn’t want to be a nuisance to his neighbours, so he stopped playing with a plectrum and changed to the softer approach of his thumb – more apt is the assumption that the sparks fly (and they do fly high) almost solely on the strength of Montgomery’s dazzling brilliance and conception. His conviction, authority, is imposing. So much so that, once the driving Missile Blues, named after the club in Indianapolis, and the album is over, a new spin in order to fully enjoy and grasp the mastery of Wes Montgomery seems the best option to spend the next hour of the evening.