JUNIOR MACE TRIO: JUNIOR’S BLUES
Junior Mance (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Mickey Roker (drs)
Down the Line (4:58) (Junior Mance)
Creole Love Call (3:19) (Ellington – Miley – Jackson)
Rainy Mornin’ Blues (4:00) (Junior Mance)
Yancey Special (3:01) (Meade “Lux” Lewis)
Gravy Waltz (3:15) (Ray Brown)
Cracklin’ (4:32) (Junior Mance)
In the Evening (3:47) (Leroy Carr)
Blue Monk (6:28) (Thelonious Monk)
Jumpin’ the Blues (5:24) (Parker – McShann)
The blues is the backbone and marrow of jazz. The blues is also, in a very real sense, the link between the jazz past and the jazz present. It is the common denominator in the work of such seemingly disparate musicians as, say, King Oliver and Charlie Parker; Jimmy Yancey and Thelonious Monk. In this album, Junior Mance – whose music has been described as “steeped in the blues tradition” – affirms this fact in a very direct and immediate way. He plays, in his own distinct and contemporary style, blues pieces ranging in chronological time from Duke Ellington’s 1927 Creole Love Call to three of Mance’s own 1963 compositions; he goes back to the very source of jazz piano in Yancey Special, and investigates the very up-to-date merger of blues and 3/4 time in Ray Brown’s Gravy Waltz. In so doing, Mance demonstrates that the jazz past, far from being of mere academic interest, continues to be a source of creative inspiration when approached in the proper spirit.
Julian Clifford Mance, Jr., 33, differs from the majority of his contemporaries (not to speak of even younger jazzmen) in his genuine awareness of and interest in good jazz of all styles and eras. He is among the happy few who realize that acquaintance with the past broadens the horizons of the creative artist, and makes it possible for him to tell his story with greater depth and perspective. Perhaps growing up in Chicago had something to do with that. Chicago was and is a blues town, and Chicago was the watershed of jazz – the place from which the music that had come up from the South fanned out to the great cities of the East and West.
It was in Chicago that such piano players as Yancey, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis – and of course, Earl Hines – made names for themselves. Boogie Woogie piano was going strong in the 1920s, but it had been revived some ten years later when Junior Mance began to play the piano. Thus his inclusion of Yancey Special does not derive from antiquarianism. “I was very young when that came up,” he told British critic Sinclair Traill in an interview, “but it went really big around Chicago in those days – in fact it was one of the first jazz tunes I learned to play. I like Yancey very much; his blues playing is so natural, without trotting out those usual blues clichés …”
The same could well be said for Junior’s own playing. In the ‘50s, numerous musicians jumped on the funk-soul band-wagon precisely by “trotting out blues clichés”. But throughout this album it is clear that Junior’s blues are for real: that’s his natural soul coming out, not a manufactured concession to a popular fad.
Mance is a strong player. He uses both hands, and his approach to the piano is the full, orchestral approach of the great jazz pianists who came up before it became customary to “lean on” the skills of a rhythm section to keep the beat going. Junior swings; one gets the feeling tat he could manage very well just by himself. He gets a fine, rich sound from the instrument: percussive when needed, but never dry. His left hand never lies idle for long, and does more than merely punctuate the linear excursions of his right. Just how powerful a pianist Junior is was brought home to this listener on one happy occasion when Count Basie was at Birdland. It was standard procedure to book a piano trio opposite Basie’s big, shouting band, and I had witnessed several excellent pianists struggle manfully – and unsuccessfully – with the task of holding the interest of an audience saturated in a bath of swinging brass. But not Junior. He came out swinging, and before they knew it, the people were with him all the way!
One reason for this achievement is Junior’s outgoing and uninhibited joy in playing – a joy which communicates without barriers. He can be introspective (listen to Blue Monk, a lucid and moving exploration of one aspect of the blues), but he never becomes enervated. The spirit of his music is basically affirmative – and at the risk of incurring the disfavor of a certain school of contemporary jazz criticism, I would venture to say that this is the basic spirit of jazz. In these terms, one plays or sings the blues in order to lose them. The music on this album spans a broad range of blues moods, but all of it is curative in this sense. If you don’t feel better after hearing these blues, chances are that you’re in pretty bad trouble.
In his present trio, Junior has the solid support of Bob Cranshaw, a member in excellent standing of the new wave of amazingly gifted young bassists. Involved for sometime in the explorations of Sonny Rollins’ “new frontier” quartet, Mickey Roker lays down a solid, propulsive foundation (having been well schooled in the needs of a group such as this by his previous tenure with pianist Ray Bryant). Empathy is the keynote to the work of this edition of the Junior Mance Trio.
The set opens with one of the three Mance originals, Down the Line, a catchy blues figure that Junior builds well, with relaxed and easy swing. Creole Love Call is vintage Ellingtonia. In what is, to the best of my knowledge, the first piano version of this too-seldom heard tune, Junior follows closely the pattern of the orchestral version (including the pretty fills in the statement of the first strain), but the voicing of the chords is his own. Rainy Morin’ Blues is all Junior’s own, although a descriptive title such as this is a bow to the old blues tradition. There are Hines-ian traces in the way Junior “throws” his right hand, and the mood is both lyrical and “down home”. We have already noted the genesis of Yancey Special. Mance’s treatment of Meade Lux Lewis’ tribute to the father of eight-to-the-bar piano is wholly idiomatic, without a trace of anything deliberately archaic. Ray Brown’s Gravy Waltz, which closes the first side, is a very attractive composition. The rhythm team lays out during an impressionistic out-of-tempo introduction that is surely one of the high spots of the album. Subsequently, things settle into a well-oiled 3/4 groove which never falters.
Cracklin’ is a moderately up-tempo Mance original with “gospel” overtones. Junior’s solid ride is effectively supported by Roker’s tambourine-flavored drumming. In the Evening is by the legendary Leroy Carr, in some ways the Ray Charles of his day (ca. 1928-35). It is a vocal blues, and Junior plays it as if he were translating the moving lyrics into piano terms: a “vocalized” line. Don’t miss the truly pretty ending.
Blue Monk is a blues masterpiece from the pen of a jazz master. Junior uses his own voicing on the theme; what follows is an utterly relaxed reflection on the essence of the bleus, subtle and swinging at a tempo at which swing is not easily maintained. Cranshaw’s support here is strikingly intelligent and sympathetic.
The rousing finale comes from Kansas City, via Charlie Parker and Jay McShann. The line, which surely is Bird’s carries premonitions of the bop to come, and is free and joyous. The tempo is brisk, and here Junior reveals his command of linear improvisation, appropriate to the saxophone-conception inherent in the tune. It makes for a happy ending to a most rewarding session with Junior Mance, a pianist equipped with both roots and antennae.
Editor, JAZZ Magazine
This is Junior Mance’s first Riverside album –
he has previously been featured on several LPs on the affiliated Jazzland label.
Produce by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF