Cecil Payne - Zodiac

Cecil Payne Zodiac (Strata-East 1968/73)

No idea what celestial spheres or horoscopes have to do with Martin Luther King and flying fish. But that puzzle doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of Cecil Payne’s Zodiac album from 1968. Immaculate, robust baritone playing. And the cream of the hard bop crop in tow.

Cecil Payne - Zodiac

Personnel

Cecil Payne (baritone saxophone, alto saxophone), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano, organ), Wilbur Ware (bass), Albert Kuumba Heath (drums)

Recorded

on December 16, 1968 at TownSound Studios, Englewood, New Jersey

Released

as SES-19734 in 1973

Track listing

Side A:
Martin Luther King
I Know Love
Girl, You Got A Home
Side B:
Slide Hampton
Follow Me
Flying Fish


Ask a layman to name a baritone saxophonist, 9 times out of 10 he or she will mention the late great famous Gerry Mulligan. But of course the instrument has a grand tradition that started with pioneer Harry Carney from the Duke Ellington Orchestra and was further developed not only by Mulligan but also by, among others, Serge Chaloff, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Nick Brignola, while Hammiet Bluiett and John Surman secured its rank in avantgarde jazz. Players like Gary Smulyan have taken the tradition to the 21st Century or experimented with new concepts like Mats Gustaffson.

Let’s not forget Cecil Payne, who never achieved fame but was a household name among musicians and fans in-the-know. Payne held the bari chair in Dizzy Gillespie’s groundbreaking bebop orchestra of the late forties and early fifties, playing on iconic tunes as Cubano Bop and Ow!. The longest association of Payne’s career is with his childhood friend from Brooklyn, New York, pianist Randy Weston. Payne is featured prominently on first-class albums as Jazz A La Bohemia and Uhuru Afrika. Other features include Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban and Tadd Dameron’s The Magic Touch. Like pianist Freddie Redd before him, Payne made a superb soundtrack to the provocative off-Broadway play The Connection on Charlie Parker Records in 1962. Payne recorded well into the 90s, 2000’s Chic Boom with the top-rate, hard boppin’ tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander being the last. Payne passed away in 2007.

Strata-East, founded in 1971, was an early attempt to sustain a black-owned jazz record company by pianist Stanley Cowell and trumpeter Charles Tolliver. The session that ended up at the Zodiac album was produced by tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. Payne is assisted by Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly, Wilbur Ware and Albert Heath, also known as “Tootie”, also known as “Kuumba”. Stellar line-up! Dorham? Kelly? By the late sixties, the careers of these brilliant gentlemen were effectively over. It’s 1969 ok, war across the USA, another year from me and you, another year with nothing to do… The Stooges. No late period hard bop, but kicking ass nevertheless. To say the least. Mildly tragic last years for Dorham and Kelly. Dorham’s last recorded output was Clifford Jordan’s 1969 session for the 1972 Strata-East album In The World, (which also included Kelly) five years after his last album as a leader, Trompeta Toccata. Kelly’s last session was Dexter Gordon’s The Jumpin’ Blues in 1970. At this time, Payne wasn’t very prolific either in the recording studio. Many of the musicians who came out of the bop period and lived to tell had a hard time once rock music had swept the country, guns blazing.

But what they recorded leaves nothing to be desired. The breathtaking tone of Kenny Dorham lifts the ballad Martin Luther King off the ground, his sustained ice-tea-with-a-drop-of-lemon notes securing feelings of nostalgia not for Times Square but rather a view of the Monterey sunset. Dorham’s playing is peaceful yet intriguingly intense. The fluid artistry of Dorham is all over the place, not least in Slide Hampton, another ode, this time to their masterful trombone playing brother Slide Hampton, a playful bop riff that has Wynton Kelly burnin’ the bushes in Bud Powell fashion. However, Kelly imbues every line with his typical catchy bounce. The funky Latin theme of Girl, You Got A Home guides us to the era of blaxploit flics, inner city buzz, the parallel developments of black pride and the sense of foreboding in a country at war. The alternation of Latin and 4/4 sections is emphasized by Wynton Kelly’s electric piano playing, frenzied noodling which honestly is best labeled as superfluous. Cecil Payne stretches out, telling a relaxed, warm-blooded story.

Payne also makes good use of space in Flying Fish, the highlight of the album. A hard bop bossa tune on fire. The relentless Albert Heath stays firmly in the pocket, Dorham’s in familiar early sixties Blue Note territory and making the most of it, Wynton Kelly bubbles with joy in the fast lane, thoroughly investigating archetypical Latin figures, dashing off shiny tremolos and blue-in-green notes while adding crisp, descending chords on the bass keys. The ending is ad-libbed by Payne, who’s quoting You And The Night And The Music in the process. Cross-referencing. A unmistakable part of jazz which for these gentlemen, like individual tones and splendid storytelling, also came natural.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Wynton Kelly Kelly At Midnite (VeeJay 1960)

When thinking about Wynton Kelly, midnight is not the first allusion that comes to mind. The pianist’s style, however bluesy, predominantly brings about images of sunshine, broad daylight, wafts of salty sea air traveling through the seams of your Hawaiian shirt… But of course, the supple blue noted set of Kelly At Midnite justifies the title. Besides, it’s a perfect hang-up for a great sleeve.

Wynton Kelly - Kelly At Midnite

Personnel

Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Recorded

on April 27, 1960 in NYC

Released

as VJLP 3011 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Temperance
Weird Lullaby
Side B:
On Stage
Skatin’
Pot Luck


1960, Hard bop in full flight, most of the musicians had embraced the rejuvenated kind of jazz that grew out of bebop, blues and gospel. However, at the same time, it functioned as an umbrella for a startling diversity of styles. Take pianists. The angular, kinetic Elmo Hope, long flowing line-specialist Sonny Clark, gently boppin’ Barry Harris and gospel-drenched, percussive Horace Parlan all blossomed on the same tree. Then there was Wynton Kelly, who possessed a conspicuous, generous bounce and a delicate sense of time, built driving stories with chapters of fragmented blues licks, boppish runs and pungent block chords. Never short on ideas. Above all, Kelly swings, swang, swung abundantly. The pianist is also hailed as one of the greatest accompanists in jazz history, who, said Philly Joe Jones, ‘puts down flowers behind a soloist.’

Jamaica, Marley territory, land of hot breeze, rowdy clubs, shady hoodlums, ganja and tax shelter and probably much more than the stereotypes that yours truly the Flophouse Floor Manager conjures up, birthplace also of Dizzy Reece and Monty Alexander, is where Kelly was born in 1931, yet his family moved to Brooklyn, New York after a few years, which found the talented youngster in the capital of jazz. A look at the career path of Kelly takes your breath away: two extended stints in the Dizzy Gillespie band. Accompanist of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Part of the Miles Davis group from 1959 to ’63. An amazing discography as a sideman that includes: Johnny Griffin’s A Blowin’ Session, Sonny Rollins’ Newk’s Time, Dizzy Gillespie’s Birks’ Works, Cannonball Adderley’s Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago, Blue Mitchell’s Big Six, Clark Terry’s Serenade To A Bus Seat, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue (on Freddie Freeloader) and Friday Night At The Blackhawk I & II, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman’s The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces, Hank Mobley’s Soul Station and Workout, Wes Montgomery’s Full House, Cecil Payne’s Zodiac. And so on. During his tenures with Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery in the sixties, Kelly recorded as a leader for VeeJay and Riverside, mostly with the guys he knew (inside out) from those groups, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers.

Kelly never hit big as a leading artist. But history has been kind, as Kelly, who perhaps grew more out of Teddy Wilson and Erroll Garner than Art Tatum and Earl Hines, is seen as a very influential player. Being influential, alas, hardly pays for a mortgage, at least not in those dark jazz ages. By 1967, ultimate sideman Kelly’s career was effectively over. Paradoxically, that year’s album Full View on Milestone is one of his best albums. Kelly passed away in 1971 following an epileptic seizure.

Here, the drum chair is held by Philly Joe Jones. Jones, who before Kelly At Midnite was featured on Kelly’s Riverside album Piano in 1958, supplies the pianist with a trademark dose of fireworks, heat and taste. His drive is matched by Paul Chambers, the young bass master, who also contributes high-level solo’s throughout. On Stage is especially enticing, the uptempo mover crackles, sizzles, boils, with Kelly’s leaping, crisp lines the icing on the cake. A typical hard bop set of blues-based, largely medium-tempo tunes and a sole ballad, Kelly At Midnite is a collection of deceptively simple snappy tales from one of those pianists that has been copied frequently but seldom matched.

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces

James Clay & David “Fathead” Newman The Sound Of The Wide And Open Spaces!!!! (Riverside 1960)

Some sessions just seem to swing harder than others. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! by co-leaders James Clay and David “Fathead” Newman is such an album. A blast from start to finish.

James Clay & David "Fathead" Newman - The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces

Personnel

James Clay (tenor saxophone, flute B2), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone B2), Wynton Kelly (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (blues)

Recorded

on April 20, 1960 in NYC

Released

as RLP 327 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Wide Open Spaces
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Side B:
Some Kinda Mean
What’s New
Figger-Ration


Think of the combi’s Johnny Griffin/Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray, Arnett Cobb/Buddy Tate or of the Clifford Jordan/John Gilmore album Blowing In From Chicago. The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! (the use of multiple exclamation marks is hyperbolic fancy, but I like the way it looks on the jacket) fits into that high calibre category. Clay and Fathead, two ‘tough’ Texan tenors (and alto’s, flutes) battle it out with the hard-driving support of Art Taylor, Sam Jones and Wynton Kelly. The album was supervised by Cannonball Adderley. Adderley, who had signed with Riverside in 1960 and recorded the highly succesful and influential live album In San Francisco, struck up a good rapport with label owner Orrin Keepnews, immediately getting into fruitful A&R territory.

James Clay is still a relatively unknown saxophonist and flute player. Born in Dallas, Texas in 1935, Clay played with fellow Texan tenorist Booker Ervin, but moved to the West Coast in the mid-fifties. By 1960, Clay had recorded with drummer Lawrence Marable (Tenorman, Jazz West 1956), bassist Red Mitchell (Presenting Red Mitchell, Contemporary 1957) and Wes Montgomery (Movin’ Along, Riverside 1960). As a leader, Clay followed up The Sound with A Double Dose Of Soul, which boasts a great line-up of Adderley alumni Nat Adderley, Victor Feldman, Louis Hayes and, again, Sam Jones. A concise but impressive discography. After contributing to Hank Crawford’s True Blue in 1964, Clay disappeared from the scene, only to enjoy a modest comeback in the late eighties.

Clay’s sound is edgy, his style is reminiscent of bop pioneers like Teddy Edwards. A great match with the better-known David “Fathead” Newman. Newman, the big-toned tenorist from Corsicana, Texas, put his highly attractive, blues-drenched style to good use in the Ray Charles band from 1954-64 and ’70-’71, starring on landmark tunes as The Right Time, Unchain My Heart and albums like Ray Charles In Person and At Newport. Newman was an Atlantic recording artist in his own right. On my deathbed, I’m damn sure I will be remembering Ray Charles Presents David “Fathead Newman (Atlantic 1958) as one of the most soulful albums in modern jazz.

Newman takes the first solo on the furiously swinging opener Wide Open Spaces, taking care of business from note one. He sings, spits, guffaws, presenting a lengthy, driving discourse of blues and bop. Meanwhile, Newman’s phrasing is articulate, fluent, and the full-bodied round tone is intact, and his flow is spurred on by clever, unisono figures of Kelly and Taylor. Clay’s tone is more edgy, thinner. Clay finds solace in darkblue, faraway corners, letting loose occasional gutsy, halve-valve sounds and spices a lively tale with labyrinthian clusters of bop phrases, in a sardonic mood, putting you on, enjoying himself. Then he emerges from the shadows with sudden, belligerent wails. Clay’s a more unpredictable player than Newman. Both take zillion choruses to have their say. Never a dull moment.

Wide Open Spaces is a tune written by the legendary bebop singer and poet, Babs Gonzalez. Figger-Ration, an uptempo, tacky bebop showstopper, is also by Gonzalez. The interpretation of Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me is hard-swinging. Keter Betts’ blues-based tune Some Kinda Mean starts with the coda, a raucous figure of snare drums and piano, and develops into a mid-tempo, Ray Charles-type mover. Supported by the responsive, burning rhythm trio of Taylor, Jones and Kelly, the latter occasionally chiming in with ebullient bits on the slower tunes and frivolous strings of high notes on the uptempo tunes, Clay and Newman speak confidently on tenor throughout. For What’s New, Newman switches to alto, Clay to flute. It’s a solid rendition of the well-known ballad.

While a current of pivotal game-changing outings (Davis’ Kind Of Blue, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Coleman’s Free Jazz) was released in ’59 and ‘60, gospel and blues-based hard bop/mainstream jazz, while not always liked by the critics, was at a peak and admired by audiences around the country and abroad. Hard bop albums rolled off the Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside assembly lines like fortune cookies. That turn of the decade was really something! Something of such all-round excellence which might easily cause such marvelous albums like The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces!!!! to be lightly snowed under. But it aged well. To this day, Clay and Newman’s bopswinging sax festivities leave one breathless with every new turn on the table.

Paul Chambers - 1st Bassman

Paul Chambers 1st Bassman (Vee-Jay 1960)

It’s not so unusual that Paul Chambers, one of the foremost bass players of modern jazz, made a string of five solo albums between 1956 and ’60. It is unusual, considering Chambers’ standing and the dawning of an equally promising next decade, that 1st Bassman is his last. Another distinctive feature of 1st Bassman is that Yusef Lateef wrote all of the tunes of this enjoyable blowing session, with the exception of a Cannonball Adderley blues, Who’s Blues. Lateef displays unique horn chops as well.

Paul Chambers - 1st Bassman

Personnel

Paul Chambers (bass), Yusef Lateef (tenor sax), Tommy Turrentine (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Lex Humphries (drums)

Recorded

on May 12, 1960 at Bell Sound Studios, NYC

Released

as VJLP 3012 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Melody
Bass Region
Side B:
Retrogress
Mopp Shoe Blues
Blessed


The session contains an interesting line-up. Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly made up an elite rhythm unit with drummer Jimmy Cobb, that recorded with John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery. Yusef Lateef was in between his formative years as a recording artist and the period wherein he started to incorporate Eastern influences into his style and had a great stint in The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Drummer Lex Humphries recorded two albums with Lateef during the 1st Bassman-period. Curtis Fuller had been making a name for himself as an astute and soulful trombonist. Trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, finally, had just left Max Roach’s group, where he’d followed in the footsteps of the legendary Clifford Brown.

Not only the line-up is an asset, the impressive drive of Chambers’ walkin’ bass and his outstanding solo abilities contribute to the relevance of this album as well. Lateef graces many tunes with simultanuously idiosyncratic and bluesy tenor and Turrentine’s trumpet style works well within the loose proceedings. However, the straightforward vehicles for blowing in four/four time that Lateef wrote, do tend to get tiresome. Mainly, they’re started off with intricate bass figures and thereafter possess intelligent bass interludes from Chambers and extended horn and piano solos. Ballad Blessed is the black sheep among the herd, containing bowed bass and the muted, lyrical trumpet style of Tommy Turrentine.

Paul Chambers, as is well documented, contributed to a stunning amount of recordings, among them many legendary albums. To name but a few: John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Giant Steps, Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues And The Abstract Truth, Lee Morgan’s Leeway, Miles Davis’ Milestones and Kind of Blue, Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness and Hank Mobley’s Workout. Being in constant demand probably prevented Chambers from recording more solo albums from 1960 to his untimely passing in 1969. 1st Bassman doesn’t rank among his prime performances, but it still is well above average.

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Art Taylor A.T.’s Delight (Blue Note 1960)

Just for the fun of it I took a peek in my record collection to find albums drummer Art Taylor played on; a cinch, as Taylor appeared on many quality sessions, mostly for Prestige and Blue Note. I have particularly fond memories of Taylor’s sparse work on John Coltrane’s Trane’s Slo Blues (from Lush Life) and probing, brilliantly produced snare drumming on Dexter Gordon’s hard bop extravaganza Tanya. (from One Flight Up) It shows a drummer that built his distinctive style coming out of the school of Max Roach and Kenny Clarke.

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Personnel

Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Dave Burns (trumpet A1-3, B2, B3), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Carlo ‘Potato’ Valdez (conga A2, A3, B2), Art Taylor (drums)

Recorded

on August 6, 1960 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Released

as BST 84047 in 1960

Track listing

Side A:
Syeeda’s Song Flute
Epistrophy
Move
Side B:
High Seas
Cookoo And Fungi
Blue Interlude


Alot of drummers have a tendency to yield to excessive exercise once their name is up in light. Art Taylor’s endeavor as leader for the Blue Note label is far from egomaniacal. Indeed he took the opportunity to engage in a drum solo with conga player Carlos “Potato” Valdez on Taylor’s composition Cookoo And Fungi; however, in the forefront are bebop and hardbop tunes from colleagues Taylor was well acquainted with, pieces that he supports attentitive and faultlessly. Drummer Denzil Best’s Move (an often played composition, immortalized especially by Bud Powell) is particularly exciting; trumpeter Dave Burns (in speedy, playful Clark Terry-mode), Stanley Turrentine and Wynton Kelly deliver suave solo’s in spite of Move’s breakneck tempo.

Coltrane’s Syeeda’s Song Flute is a proper vehicle for Taylor to not only keep time steadfastedly but inventively fill the spaces between its intriguing and innovative changes. Kenny Dorham’s High Seas and Blue Interlude are fine renditions of typically ‘twisty and turny’ hard bop compositions. Blue Note surely was secured of a drummer to be trusted with the keys to the building.