WILLIE RODRIGUEZ JAZZ QUARTET: Flatjacks
Seldon Powell (as, ts, cl, fl) Barry Galbraith (g) George Duvivier (b Willie Rodriguez (drs, and Latin percussion)
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC; July – August, 1963
Moliendo Café (3:50) (Jose Manzo)
Serenata (3:02) (Leroy Anderson)
Nanigo Soul (2:14) (Willie Rodriguez)
Mr. Yosso (4:35) (Willie Rodriguez)
Brasileira (2:19) (Rodriguez-Conquet)
One Foot in the Gutter (4:49) (Clark Terry)
It Happened in Monterey (3:30) (Wane-Rose)
Flatjacks (2:58) (George Duvivier)
Seafood Wally (3:05) (Willie Rodriguez)
After Words (2:39) (Ed Michel)
Tasty (2:45) (Seldon Powell)
El Sueno de Frances (2:48) (Barry Galbraith)
There are at least three ways to approach the remarkable percussionist featured on this album. For one, there is Willie Rodriguez the raconteur and bon vivant, who can frequently be found holding court at Jim and Andy’s (the New York musician’s current Mermaid Tavern). This is the Rodriguez who always has tall tales, new gags, inside stories, trade talk and hot-line gossip to pass along. Then there’s the Rodriguez who is on the first-call list whenever there’s a record date that needs a Latin percussionist; the Rodriguez who always arrives with two gigantic cases full of shakers, scrapers, scratchers, graters, cowbells, sticks, mallets, brushes, bangers, bongos, tambourines, cabazas, triangles, cymbals, and enough cigars for everyone; who knows every Latin rhythm (whether it’s been here for years or just arrived on the latest plane from South America) and can communicate its feeling to everyone else on the date. There’s also Willie the complete studio percussionist, with a range that covers a complete legitimate technique on all the mallet and stick instruments. He’s just as much at home working a summer resort in the Catskills (Rodriguez the tale-spinner is superb on this subject), or playing TV and radio shows, stage shows (including solo spots at Radio City Music Hall), films, commercials – any of those studio jobs where the fundamental concern is not for your reputation but for your ability to play whatever music is set down in front of you and have it come out right. In short, Willie’s a total pro.
All of this description, while quite accurate, is also incomplete. For few people, even among fellow-musicians, are aware that Willie is a first-class jazz drummer as well. No one questions his ability to come onto a jazz date with his bagful of Latin tools and become an integral part of a swinging rhythm section; but few realize that his talents as a “straight” drummer fall into the same swinging groove. Which may explain why this is the first LP to feature Willie in the role of jazz drummer, but should also explain why no one should be the least bit surprised at the sill and verve with which he fills that role.
His three co-workers share somewhat the same problem – everyone knows about them, but it’s funny how infrequently people stop to think about them. The same skills that have led to their being both respected and taken for granted have also led to their being constantly at work in a wide variety of studio jobs. No one questions their ability as jazzmen; it’s just that they very rarely get this sort of opportunity to display those abilities as freely as they do here. And they would seem to have made the most of this opportunity …
Barry Galbraith, who came up through such early-1940s bands as that of Red Norvo, has an almost unequalled ability to move comfortably between amplified (pick-style) and classical (finger-style) guitar that accounts in part for the color and texture changes throughout this album. The rest of that variety of sound patterns is the responsibility of Seldon Powell, who arrived at the recording studio laded down with alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, clarinet, flute and alto flute (and then found himself apologizing because the irrepressible Rodriguez managed a look of deadpan disappointment when Seldon admitted that he just didn’t play oboe!). A Julliard graduate who has spent time with bands as diverse as those of Sy Oliver, Neal Hefti, Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, among others, Powell seemingly can produce absolutely any type of instrumental sound to order, without ever losing his unique jazz sting. George Duvivier was playing and arranging for Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Millinder in the early ‘40s and was Lena Horne’s long-time, and flawless intonation have made him one of New York’s most in-demand recording bassists of the past decade.
The repertoire includes three standards – Serenata, It Happened in Monterey, and the less familiar Moliendo Café (for several years an important staple in the Latin music field) – and nine originals, most of them the work of members of the quartet. Powell wrote Tasty, while Duvivier’s composition and feature is Flatjacks, appropriately subtitled (by Willie) Just a Minor Bass-A Nova. Galbraith’s el Sueno de Frances, in the form of a joropo, the Venezuelan waltz, is named for the Rodriguez daughter. The leader himself is responsible for the 6/8 Nanigo Soul (Nanigo refers to an African-derived Cuban cult), Seafood Wally (named in honor of a maritime gourmet associate of Willie’s at Jim and Andy’s), and the slow blues Mr. Yosso (originally called Mysterioso, but changed to avoid confusion with the similarly-spelled Thelonious Monk title), and co-authored the samba Brasileira.
The title “Flatjacks”, incidentally, refers to the unusual type of drums Willie uses here. As set up in the studio, they look very much as if he had remembered to bring only the heads of the drums, absent-mindedly leaving the rest of the set behind. Although their appearance is pretty awesome at first, the sound – as is apparent throughout the album – is as thoroughly satisfying as any drummer, or listener, could desire.
Produced by RAY FOWLER AND ED MITCHEL
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York