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SONNY CRISS/The Joy of Sax-Warm and Sonny: Let's pick on Sonny Criss for a minute (through no fault of his own). A late 40s sax bebopper, who's "Cool Struttin'" (which is reprised here) was one of the most iconic album covers in Blue Note's history, found himself still able to land a recording contract in the late 70s, when the labels were still flush with cash before the disco collapse and were making a new commitment to their jazz departments. The problem for guys like Criss was, even thought they still had the wind and finger control, they were given the CTI treatment in making their later day records. Currently underappreciated veteran producer, Esmond Edwards, was given this teeny thing that looked like a check and was given free reign within limits. Lining up a first call, sight reading crew to lay down a bed of solid versions of popular songs, cats like Criss would be brought in to play over it. He did wonderful stuff with wonderful cats but covers of "The Way We Were", "You Are so Beautiful"? Really? This works better today as mood and background music and feels less like a porno soundtrack now than it did then. Are we saying this is a bad record? Far from it. If the featured player was Chiam Yankel instead of a respected bopper, the critical pause would have come out much differently. Now it comes across as a delightful slab of up market, smoothish jazz that could be looked at as running ahead of the curve. Divorce the baggage, enjoy the date.

SONNY STITT/Now!-Salt & Pepper: A pair of dates form Impulse's! low numbers with Hank Jones tickling the ivories on both sets. Ain't that just as good as it gets? A 40s sax bebopper that was never given the love by the jazz police because he came up with Charlie Parker but wanted to make music he knew people would like rather than push the boundaries and hope the audience followed him, Stitt did his own thing and did it well---and he was one of those acts that nobody except the general public liked. A pair of fine examples of commercial music that isn't pablum, the players are all in top form and traditional mainstream jazz was alive and well in the early 60s if this twofer is any proof. A solid set jazzbos should grab before it's gone.

HOWARD ROBERTS/Antelope Freeway-Equinox Express Elevator: Well before there was pomo, there was weird for the sake of weird, usually churned out when nobody had a clue as to what was going on around them and they were hoping for the best. So it went for Ed Michel and Bill Szymczyk when they were trying to find their footing in the early 70s. A guitarist that could easily have made records in the Barney Kessel mode, a different tack was taken here. Downbeat absolutely hated this, so much so that it took the label 4 years after the second record was recorded to release it. With cats like Dave Grusin and various future members of the LA Express on board, how weird could it have been? It seems less so today. As far as the weird bullshit goes, the drop ins, cross fades and other hippie touches aren't any weirder than what was on so may other records back in that day. It certainly is hippie stuff, but it flew so far under the radar and to the left, you can see why Dusty Groove would celebrate a set like this today Leave your linear trips behind and go with the flow for a journey through inner space you won't forget.

OLIVER NELSON & Friends/Happenings-Soulful Brass: Nelson was a bit of an anomaly back in the day. A first call sax player, he generally was given albums under his own name where he was the arranger, and a top flight one at that. When you rip this collection to your hard drive, you will see that these are actually two stealth Hank Jones albums, at least according to the FAI sensor. Louis Armstrong impersonations, hanging out with Steve Allen, incredibly groovy orchestrations right in line with where pop was sitting in the early part of the late 60s---it all ads up in ways it shouldn't showing what a bad ass Nelson was. An utterly enjoyable trip for anyone with groovy tastes, this double serving of now sound jazz hits the target throughout. Fun stuff with no dust on it that remains groovy today.

FREDDIE HUBBARD/The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard-The Body & the Soul: One thing that people are almost unanimous about is that "Artistry" is probably Hubbard's greatest album. Despite that, they also rave about John Gilmore's sax playing as the spark that lights this record up. The companion set, pairing the only two albums Hubbard made for Impulse! is no plate of runny chopped liver either. Surrounded by heavy and heady cats that always meant business, these two low number Impulse! productions with Bob Thiele at the helm shows a young man with a horn that played second fiddle for no one. Real jazz for real listeners that shows a nice template on how to construct a classic. Well done.

JOHN HANDY/Hard Work-Carnival: Would you really have a problem with a set that had both Larry Carlton and Jimmy Jamerson on it? Handy was hitting his 40s when these two sets were recorded in the late 70s, but he did an expert job of playing to the times and remaining relevant to his sound. A solid swinger from the get go, he possessed some innate ability to straddle several lines as the audience was fragmenting and yet deliver a cohesive sounds that had appeal to cross over several lines without sinking into blandly being crossover that appealed to no one. Tasty, zesty stuff that works well throughout, this is the first time you're seeing this on cd and you better grab it before it's the last. Hot stuff that still has plenty of fire.

CLARK TERRY/The Happy Horns of Clark Terry-It's What's Happenin': Terry recently lost his remaining leg, but there was once a time when he was schlepping an under age Miles Davis to St. Louis jazz clubs to get the youngster his first taste. There was a long stretch that Terry was one of the mainstays of Johnny's original Tonight Show orchestra. There's a lot of music you've enjoyed by Terry over the last million or so years where you dug the sound but you might not have known the name behind it. Here we go back to a pair of mid 60s dates where Terry is surrounded by all stars and none of it is dated a whit. Part of a small group of guys that included cats like himself and Benny Carter, these guys just radiated sunshine in all they did. These records will live forever, but Terry is already older than dirt. Pick up this twofer, then drop him a note at www.clarkterry.com. You'll be glad you did both. Whether it's swinging or sitting down, this is a twofer loaded with classy, first class jazz that's part of the sound's DNA. Need I say ‘check it out'?

CHARLES MINGUS/The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady-Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus: Money has always been a major issue, but it's never been the only issue like it is today. Once upon a time, some records were made because they had to be made. On these low number Impulse! outings, Bob Thiele was already doing just fine with Coltrane's outer space explorations so he wrote a check, stood back and let the angriest man in jazz just do his thing. The result? "Black Saint" is probably the anti-"Kind of Blue" with just as many people calling it the jazz classic of all time. Not an easy record by any stretch, it sounds like Carla Bley's original lesson plan that taught her how to navigate the early 70s. Love it or hate it, you can see why eggheads call this is ultimate in modern jazz. Despite the Marcia Brady sounding title, "Saint' was paired with a set that was Mingus's greatest hits, redone, such as it was. Recording fave pieces with the freedom he felt he didn't have a prior label stands, once again, this is where it was at for egghead jazz. He might be dead over 30 years, but I'll bet he could still do a Gene Shaw on you. That's angry! But those were the times. The funny thing is, I can see young, pomo genre blenders playing these sides and asking what the big deal is about with all the controversy.

Volume 35/Number 142
March 11, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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