ELVIN!: Elvin Jones & Company
Thad Jones (cnt) Frank Wess (fl) Frank Foster (ts) Hank Jones (p) Art Davis (b) Elvin Jones (drs)
(Pretty Brown and Four and Six are played by trio – Hank Jones and Art Davis, Elvin Jones – only. Other selections by sextet, except that Foster does not play on You Are Too Beautiful)
New York; July 1, 1961 (trio), December 27, 1961 and January 3, 1962
1. Lad Luck (6:21) (T. Jones – Wess)
2. Buzz-at (6:28) (Thad Jones)
3. Shadowland (4:06) (Sara Cassey)
4. Pretty Brown (3:30) (Ernie Wilkins)
1. Ray-El (7:58) (Thad Jones)
2. Four and Six (5:01) (Oliver Nelson)
3. You Are Too Beautiful (4:20) (Rodgers and Hart)
This is a period of jazz activity that places considerable em0hasis on constantly bolder and more free uses of the once straight-jacket rhythm instruments. Thus it is quite understandable that a good deal of attention is being directed these days at the amazingly dynamic (to pick what is actually mild adjective) young drummer who heads the goodly company assembled for this album.
ELVIN JONES has been most widely praised, by critics and musicians alike, for his role in expanding the style pioneered by Kenny Clarke and Max Roach. His ability to set a cauldron of cross-rhythms boiling, while keeping the jets of the basic rhythm burning high, is an outstanding feature of his work. This aspect is mot in evidence in his efforts, since 1961, with the John Coltrane group. On this album, Elvin drums in, for the most part, a less complex but no less swinging manner, pointing up his notable versatility. It also points up his basically tasteful approach to music. When asked to put together this, his first album as a leader, Elvin was insistent on a well-rounded date – “a musical date,” as he put it – without any excessive or forced building-around and over-spotlighting of the drummer-leader.
Those who know Elvin will agree that it was inevitable that he would take such an attitude. Equally inevitable was his inclusion among his co-workers of brothers Hank and Thad. Of all the talented families in jazz, I don’t think there are any who surpass these three Jones boys (who, to keep the record straight, are unrelated to all the many other talented jazz Joneses). Differences in musical temperament have kept each occupied in his own corner of the jazz world: Hank in the TV and radio studios; Thad in the Count Basie trumpet section; Elvin with Coltrane. Circumstance does not often bring them together. When it does, as here, all can meet on a common ground that is neither bland nor far-out. It is more than just fraternal ties that make this possible: each Jones is a versatile, knowledgeable and accomplished musician who is also at home outside the limits of the specific area in which he usually works.
All were born in Pontiac, Michigan. Hank, the oldest, was the first to leave the Detroit area, in 1944. In New York his early style, influenced by Waller, Tatum and Teddy Wilson, was altered through hearing the 52nd Street modernists. He worked with Coleman Hawkins, Andy Kirk, John Kirby and many others; then accompanied Ella Fitzgerald for five years. Since 1953 he has mostly been very active in the studios, but with time out for much recording. The trio tracks here give him most chance to shine, but his smoothly-flowing, toast-warm style is always a consistent delight.
Thad didn’t leave Detroit permanently until ’54, when he took up residence with Basie. He is heard on cornet here, the instrument with which he scored so effectively on “Five by Monk by Five” (Riverside 305; Stereo 1150). Whether he is playing open and pungently brassy as on Lady Luck, or insinuatingly and muted as on Buzz-at, he is always vital.
Elvin, the youngest, came to New York in the Spring of ’56 and first worked with Bud Powell. In ’58 he was with two other transplanted Detroiters, Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams (heard on Riverside 265), and later played for a variety of leaders – J. J. Johnson and Harry Edison among them – before joining Coltrane. In 1959 he was a “New Star” in the Down Beat Critic’s Poll.
The men who join the Joneses on this album have all been close musical associates of one of them at one time or another. Wess and Foster have played with Thad in the Basie band for many years, and Art Davis was with Elvin in support of Coltrane at the time of recoding. It was Elvin’s insistence on these men and his brothers that led to the unusually long time lapse between the initial trio session and the two dates featuring the sextet. It took that long for Coltrane’s group and Basie to be in town together at a time when Hank was free from his busy studio schedule. But these were who Elvin wanted and results prove that his patience was rewarded.
Wess is heard here exclusively on flute, the instrument which he, more than any other player, helped to establish in jazz. His sound is big, clear and mellow. Listen to his dexterity and clarity on the swinging Lady Luck, or his sensitive work on the ballads Shadowland and You Are Too Beautiful. Foster is virile and decidedly individual tenorman whose long stay with the big Basie band has perhaps kept him from deserved popularity. But when he gets a chance to wail in a small-group context, he really opens up. He shouts effectively on Ray-el, a blues by Thad, and his tensile strength is in evidence on Buzz-at. Also, his arrangement of Shadowland, Sara Cassey’s lovely tribute to the late drummer Shadow Wilson, is an exquisitely-voiced model of understatement. Davis is an outstanding newly “arrived” bassist whose ability to stand out in a period of so many good newcomers on this instrument is an indication of exceptional talent. His control and cohesiveness are remarkable.
This is an extremely well-balanced, highly-musical set in which everyone is shown to good advantage. Without trying to grab the spotlight, Elvin has managed to bring his tremendous talent across both in accompaniment and as a soloist. His brush fills during the melody statement of Lady Luck are artful; the brush solo on Pretty Brown is a butterfly with strength. His resilient, unflagging, always refreshing cymbal beat on Buzz-at is a constant joy. He propels the latter piece and Ray-El into instant life with his inventive introductions. Finally, his solos throughout are never too long and continually hold your interest. The one on Six and Four (the title indicates the meter) is an example of how he deals with complex rhythms. Coltrane has said of Elvin: “I especially like his ability to mix and juggle rhythms. He’s also always aware of everything else that’s happening. I guess you could say that he has the ability to be in three places at the same time.”
Conversely, it could be said that bringing together the results of three times (the July, December and January sessions) into one place (this album) is a most strong illustration of drummer Jones’ ability. The exclamation point following Elvin! is no exaggeration.
(This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9409) and Monaural (RLP 409) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York