Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Jimmy and Blue

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had used some jazz CDs to bribe myself into finishing a chapter draft for my dissertation. Here they are, along with my completely partial reviews:

Jimmy Smith/Cool Blues. Jimmy Smith is the undisputed king of the jazz organ. This live session, recorded at the now closed Small's Paradise in New York City, was not released at all until 1980, having been lost somewhere in the cavernous vaults at Blue Note. Fortunately, it has been rescued and resurrected as part of the RVG series. This is vintage Smith from his peak period; you can find him here still dancing around the borders between hard bop and soul jazz. To my ear, Smith is best when he swings at a rate somewhere between "cooking" and "grooving" (to use the technical terms). The first track, "Dark Eyes," is the best of the bunch, but the soloing is uniformly excellent throughout.

I was a bit disappointed with the rendition of "A Night in Tunisia," if only because it sounds so much like the Jazz Messengers version recorded two years later in 1960 (especially the way the tenor sax comes in slowly during the intro; compare Tina Brooks here with Wayne Shorter on the later date). Perhaps this similarity isn't coincidental, since Art Blakey, founder and perennial leader of the Messengers, is on the drums behind Smith. The band takes the tune at such a high tempo that Smith's organ lines get a little lost in the mix; this may be the one point in the evening when there was too much "cooking" and too little of Smith's signature "groove." But as a Blakey showcase, it's excellent, as is the 1960 version.

One of my favorite things about this CD reissue is the included announcement of the band by Babs Gonzales, who introduces the "volcanic interpretations of James Smith." Gonzales introduces the band members as being "of" their instruments: " ... Lou Donaldson of the alto sax, Tina Brooks of the tenor sax, and Mr. here [Eddie] McFadden of the guitar." That's just cool (at least if you're a jazz nerd). Makes it sound like the tenor sax is a country somewhere, where Tina Brooks hangs out with Hawk and Trane and Dexter. And when you show up to play the tenor at Small's or wherever, they say you're "of" the tenor, just like they'd say "Tina Brooks of New York City" or "Coleman Hawkins of the U-nited States." Let me reiterate that if the organ is a country somewhere, Jimmy Smith just owns the place. After you've listened to this album and seen what I mean, listen to House Party and see what I mean again.

Blue Mitchell/The Thing to Do. The Thing to Do is go out and buy it. This is one of the most recent RVG releases, and it's a good thing it's out because the (relatively) few albums Blue Mitchell recorded as a leader are hard to come by these days. "Fungii Mama" is a well-known track, but "Step Lightly," written by Joe Henderson, is the real treat. The album's also a good one to pick up if you like the acoustic Chick Corea on piano, before the 1970s happened to him. Mitchell and Junior Cook (tenor sax) worked together as Horace Silver sidemen, but you can tell the difference that Corea makes in the group's sound.

Collective Improvisation:
Thanks for the pointer to Blue Mitchell's "The Thing to Do." I didn't have it (I have a lot), and it's great.

You are exactly right about Jimmy Smith's Cool Blues, Dark Eyes is the best. It's hard to place a finger on what's different about the rest of it. Something goes sideways.

I found your blog from

Maybe you should allow anonymous comments? I had to go through the exercise of creating an (empty) blogger home for myself just to type in this comment.

The "house party" title reminded me of the Herbie Nichols's "House Party Starting," which is on his complete blue note recordings. An amazing piece of minimal piano jazz, perfect in every way.

Good luck with your PhD. Remember, your thesis is no more than that document, which when signed, gets you out the door, nothing more (best advice I got in grad school)

Thane Plambeck

Posted by Blogger Thane on 8/11/2004 02:24:00 AM : Permalink  

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