“Backward Glances” – #1
All my LP records were placed in storage in NJ beginning in 1994 (the horror, the horror!), and I have only recently been reunited with the survivors here in Oz after a depressing trip to The States in late 2016. Ergo, this occasional series as a celebration of being able to hear some of my favorite music again in my favorite format… the LP!
What contributes to considering what may or may not be a great jazz album? There are some jazz albums that tend to be considered great as ground-breaking stylistic and/or historical milestones (no pun intended) in the genre – “Kind of Blue” (Columbia) being the first to come to mind, as does Ornette’s “Change of the Century” (Atlantic). The former still sells heaps of recordings after forty-eight years in catalogue, so it still means something to the folks out there! It can happen!
Others are records that gather great individual performances (usually from 78s) in one location in good sound (Duke Ellington in Blanton/Webster mode – Victor). Most are as good sounding as possible with present technology (King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band acoustic sides released by Off the Record/Archaeophone). There are many factors, often personal, that come into play in rating stuff from one’s collection. Such albums tend to be full-length worthy, although some pieces may holdup better than others. Compare Miles’ then-experimental Columbia album “Kind of Blue” with later club date recordings – the songs were no longer totally new and they players charged ahead through them as opposed to feeling their way in those first studio attempts. Miles also contributes “Sketches of Spain” to my grouping, his marvelous (w. Gil Evans) total musical gem. Additionally, a full two-sided 12” masterpiece is actually rare as there are hills and dales in performance most times, no pun intended.
On the top of my list of favorite LP albums is one that came out in 1961; Hank Crawford’s first album “More Soul” on Atlantic 1356. I still find it one of the most perfect or complete 12” record albums of jazz of all time… seriously! Basically, this was Ray Charles’ contemporary small band on its own tub’s bottom: Hank Crawford (as/pno), David Newman (ten), Leroy Cooper (bar), Phillip Guilbeau (tpt), John Hunt (flg/tpt), Edgar Willis (bs), Milt Turner (dms). To say that this band was tight from years and miles on the road and in the studio would be an understatement. Tighter than a crab’s ass, and that’s waterproof!
Their repertoire was varied, with only one original song by Hank (“Four Five Six”) – all others are from people who might be considered “jazzy” folk. James Moody’s “Boo’s Tune”, Matt Dennis’ “Angel Eyes”, Moody’s “The Story”, Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere”, Erroll Garner’s “Misty”, Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie”. The sort of stuff that the band might play at a gig before it was “star time” and Ray would come out to do his thing! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!!)
Produced by Nesuhi Ertegun, the album kicks off in fine fettle with no let-down during its full duration. It’s extremely well programmed by the producer, an attribute that is not acknowledged as an art form of sorts – sequencing can make or break a record’s impact. And this record was not marketed as a pop album with a couple of hits alongside a bunch of filler – it was a full-fledged jazz album! Such a band was often found in larger clubs – I remember catching Buddy Tate’s band a few times at The Celebrity Club down stairs on the North side of 125th Street. All the basic “parts” of a big band, but in miniature… and swingin’!
All the musicians here are worthy – David Newman had a career of his own later on, and Phil Guilbeau played many recording sessions, and was a mentor to many younger musicians in the Washington, DC area. To me, the major “find” was Leroy Cooper on the baritone sax – “Four, Five, Six” is a feature for him – he did five LPs with Hank, all told. I knew of him from an earlier LP on Atlantic from 1959 by Buster Smith [The Legendary Buster Smith” 1323]. Cooper also played on “Noble & Nat”, Noble Watts & Nat Adderley in 1990 for Kingsnake Records; on CD for Bedrock Records later on. In later years, Val Wilmer mentioned to me that she had seen him working regularly in Florida in a “house” band of some sort at Disney World. He seems to have been satisfied as a side-man (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and did not step forward as a leader on record. A fine jazz musician who is poorly known – they are myriad.
This record of Hank’s has seen re-release over time in a number of forms: I have a two CD package from Joel Dorn’s former label 32 Jazz [32054, appropriately entitled “Memphis, Ray, and a Touch of Moody”] with three other early Crawford Atlantic LPs (“From the Heart”, “Soul of the Ballad”, “Dig These Blues”). It was a great way for me to begin with Hank, who did all the arrangements save “The Story”, (by Ray)! A squiz at Amazon shows a few different packages with this album’s music, so it’s both worthy and readily available! If you do not have this album, you should. This is a band fully used to one another in full swinging mode – not too soft, not too loud… just right. They sound as if they are having a really good time being in the studio – the Moody influence, indeed – and know exactly what they are up to! So, is this great jazz? I cannot say for sure, but it’s a damn fine record album in my estimation! It makes me feel good to listen to it.
PETER B. LOWRY Sydney (2017)
IAJRC Journal: Vol. 50, No. 2 – Summer 2017 – p.6.