The Right Combination: JOE ALBANY with WARNE MARSH
...unlocking the door to a legendary modern jazz pianist
Warne Marsh (ts) Joe Albany (p) Bob Whitlock (b)
Los Angeles; Fall, 1957
1. Daahoud (4:55) (Clifford Brown)
2. Angel Eyes (6:08) (Brent – Dennis)
3. I Love You (8:32) (Cole Porter)
1. Body and Soul (8:23) (Heyman – Sour – Green)
2. It’s You or No One (4:58) (Cahn – Styne)
3. All the Things You Are (7:21) (Hammerstein – Kern)
4. The Nearness of You (2:15) (Washington – Carmichael)
JOE ALBANY has become something of a legend in his own time, most specifically among modern jazz musicians and also among a rather select group of jazz fans, largely because – being by nature a most withdrawn and elusive young man – he has managed to be far more widely unheard than any other talented musician of our times.
The cover of this album is an admittedly extreme bit of symbolic reference, implying that some modern Raffles has gumshoed his way into one of the most formidable-looking vaults ever seen to unearth recorded Albany tapes. But more than one record-company operative (particularly on the West Coast, where Joe has for the most part lived and, on occasion, worked) will verify that the actual issuance of Joe Albany recordings does call for depiction in extreme terms, and that it also must have called for a “combination” (pun intended) of circumstances even more unlikely than guessing how to unlock that gargantuan vault door.
For, in this era of prolific jazz recording, and despite periodic announcements by various labels that an Albany album was about to happen, this LP marks the first release since 1946 of a new disc involving this pianist!
Now, this would note be at all notable if Albany turned out to be merely an eccentric recluse of no great ability. But this album should leave no doubt that this is a fine and individual jazz voice. He plays here with an easy, swinging roundness to his right-hands lines that gives the feeling that he has all the time in the world to make the notes he wants, whether the tempo be fast or slow (in this respect, he brings Milt Jackson to mind). The Albany piano sound is basically a “funky,” blues-oriented one, momentarily suggestive of Thelonious Monk at times, but fundamentally Joe’s own. Clearly, the fact that this wound has been virtually unheard has been everyone else’s loss at least as much as it has been his.
The present recording came into existence in probably the only was it could have: the setting was not a recording studio, but the living room of the Long Beach, California, home of a most capable sound engineer, Ralph Garretson. Albany’s attention was primarily focused, that afternoon, on using his friend’s room for rehearsing with a group with which he was to play some Sunday afternoon jobs at a local club. (Such gigs, and sometimes an engagement at some late-night musicians’ hangout, have represented just about his only public appearances.) Under such casual, no-strain circumstances, it proved possible to get down on tape some very lucid and intriguing jazz statements.
Most of the strong points of the truly relaxed jam session seem to have been captured here. The musical evidence surely shows that these are mutually sympathetic musicians; they play well together, have something to say, and are able to inspire each other as they go along, right (so to speak) in front of us. In this free and informal situation there evolves a rarely intimate and personal kind of jazz. The essence of this album is improvisation; individual expression, and spontaneous interplay between piano and horn, are of basic importance; and it seems vital that Albany and Marsh be aware of each other as people as well as musicians. For such purposes, a private session would appear to be the true natural habitat. (Certainly it is far more conducive to such results than either the chattering audiences and clinking glasses of club or the austerity and enforced silence of commercial recording studio.)
There are, of course, weaknesses in such a set-up. The absence of advance preparation results in a lack of any worked-out special arrangements, a couple of awkward moments, an occasionally tentative approach – none of which is necessarily disturbing, and all of which seems to be more than compensated for by the presence of much extensive, uninhibited ‘blowing.’ There is also apt to be something less than the ultimate highest-fidelity in recorded sound – but this problem is minimized here by fully professional recording that is, under the at-home circumstances, unusually good; and it has been further minimized by Riverside’s editing and processing efforts, particularly by exceptionally skillful tape-editing by Ray Fowler. (It should be noted, though, that overcoming such things as false starts and casual conversation has led to abrupt openings on a couple of numbers.)
JOE ALBANY is so much the man of mystery that even most of those who have worked with him have not come away with much feeling of knowing the man. Ross Russell, who ran the pioneering modern-jazz label, Dial, and who knew Albany in Los Angeles in the mid’40s, when the pianist was in his early twenties, does recall him as having had, even then, “good technique, a subtle sense of time” and a “sense of texture” to his music not to be found in the work of most other pianists then groping their way into the new world of bop. Charlie Parker had a most high regard for Albany – “except for Bud Powell, he was Bird’s favorite piano player then.” In 1946, when Parker and Howard McGhee had a fluctuating group at the Club Final in Los Angeles, Albany was the pianist, and Russell recalls that he was scheduled to be on Bird’s celebrated Ornithology record date. But some disagreement arose, about some by-now long-for-gotten matter, and Albany left the scene.
He did record in ’46, though, making four sides for Aladdin with a Lester Young group. Those selections, on which Albany shoes to a very good advantage, and two obscure 1945 George auld big-band numbers for Guild, have until now apparently been the total Joe Albany discography.
WARNE MARSH also originated in Los Angeles (born in 1927), and has been playing professionally since his ‘teens. Since the end of the ‘40s, he has usually considered New York as home, and has been prominent in the circle of “far out” jazzmen around pianist-teacher Lennie Tristano.
Marsh is also very decidedly to be included among the many tenormen whose primary influence was Lester Young, and perhaps the fact that Pres’ name crops up in connection with both men is one clue to why this Albany-Marsh combination is so right. In any event, Warne and Joe, who came together only briefly, appear to have much in common musically. Both play long chromatic lines with subtle rhythmic inflections; both have a strong sense of melodic structure; and Marsh’s warm, breathy sound, modern conception and deliberate way with a line are all elements that strongly complement the Albany approach. And there should also be mention of the able support of bassist Bob Whitlock, who was a member of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet.
The extensive Riverside jazz catalogue includes such outstanding albums as –
Mulligan Meets Monk: THELONIOUS MONK and GERRY MULLIGAN (RLP 12-247)
Thelonious in Action: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet, with Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-262)
It Could happen to You: CHET BAKER Sings (RLP 12-278)
Portrait of Cannonball: JULIAN ADDERLEY Quintet (RLP 12-269)
Freedom Suite: SONNY ROLLINS (RLP 12-258)
MAX ROACH New Quintet (RLP 12-280)
The Modern Touch: BENNY GOLSON Sextet; with J. J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham (RLP 12-256)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd (RLP 12-264)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS and JOSEPH MURANYI
Cover by PAUL WELLER (photograph) and PAUL BACON (design)
Vault door in cover photograph courtesy of The Mosler Safe Company.)
Engineer: RALPH GARRETSON
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.