Long Night: FRANK STROZIER
Sextet(*) Frank Strozier (as) George Coleman (ts) Pat Patrick (brs) Chris Anderson (p) Bill Lee (b) Walter Perkins (drs) (Strozier and Patrick play flute on The Crystal Ball)
Quartet: Strozier, Anderson, Lee, Perkins
Recorded New York City; September 12, 1961
Long Night (*) (4:38) (Frank Strozier)
How Little We Know (5:51) (Leigh Springer)
The Need for Love (*) (4:37) (Frank Strozier)
The Man That Got Away (4:05) (I. Gershwin-Arlen)
Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe (5:52) (Harburg-Arlen)
The Crystal Ball (*) (5:28) (Frank Strozier)
Pacemaker (4:06) (Frank Strozier)
Just Think It Over (*) (3:56) (Frank Strozier)
In Whitney Balliett of the New Yorker had not squandered a lovely phrase like “the sound of surprise” on jazz as a whole, it would have made an appropriate title for Frank Strozier’s first Jazzland album. The surprise may only be mine, and the fault also, but I expected nothing like the music this album contains.
My acquaintanceship with Frank Strozier’s music had been limited to what I knew of his association with the Chicago quintet called the “MJT plus 3”, more specifically with a near-hit by that group called Sleepy, which was one of those ever-present 3/4 pieces. Thus I rather imagined that a Strozier album would be a hard blowing session, containing tunes with titles like Big Fat Church. Sorry, Lovers of contemporary liturgical music will have to go elsewhere. *
This, incidentally, is not meant to knock the MJT plus 3. Those initials stand for Modern Jazz Two,
which in turns stands for bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Walter Perkins, who were chosen by Sonny Rollins
for the rhythm section in the group he assembled for his return to professional life late in 1961.
they have therefore received one of the highest compliments possible, and need no assist from me.
What is to be found on this album is a writing and arranging talent of a potential stature that I doubt even Jazzland bargained for when the album was commissioned. They were aware that their man could play alto saxophone, certainly, but not the rest of it, I shouldn’t think, because Frank Strozier is only twenty-four years old, and the sextet portions of this LP display a maturity and sense of organization that are quite rare even in people of considerably more than that age. The first clue to his music, though, is on the three standards played by the quartet. They are good tunes to play on, as Frank proves, but they seem not to have been chosen for that reason as much as because they are lovely melodies in themselves. And what Strozier shows in his playing and his writing is the gift of melody, and area of music which has been rather neglected recently in favor or harmonic and rhythmic experimentation. This is perhaps the best place to say that Strozier himself is not in sympathy with the most recent experimentations; one proof of that is his saxophone playing, which, unlike that of many others of his age, goes directly back to Charlie Parker for its inspiration and ignores most of the later embellishments which have accrued to that style.
But we were talking about the three standards. They are How Little We Know; The Man That Got Away; and Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe. It may be of more than passing significance that collective title to those songs is held by some of the finest singers of our time: Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ethel Waters and Lena Horne. There is more than a little jazz in each of those people, and two of the songs (both written by Harold Arlen) make a pass at the blues. So perhaps it is only natural that they be played with an open, singing, blues-based attack. More probably, though, the reverse is true – that they were chosen by Frank because they are excellent vehicles for that kind of approach. (Parenthetically, I am grateful for proof that my great affection for The Man That Got Away, which I consider to be just about the best popular song of the last ten years, is not based completely on its touching lyric or the incomparable skill of Miss Garland.) And, for comparison, there is one Strozier original, Pacemaker, played by the quartet, and you will find the same qualities in evidence there.
The remainder of the album consists of four Strozier tunes played by a sextet. They are songs more than vehicles for improvisation, and some of them are now having words put to them by a friend of Frank’s from Chicago. That last phrase, incidentally, is a designation that applies to each of Strozier’s associates on the album. Unlike the standard procedure, in which a relatively unknown musician is placed in a recording studio with the best of the New York pros, who may very well, by their mere presence, inhibit the display of whatever talent the principal might have, the choice of material and personnel for this session was left entirely up to the leader. A & R man Orrin Keepnews reports that Strozier was rather surprise when this suggestion was first made, but quickly warmed to the idea of working solely with the men he would feel most comfortable with. The results indicate to me that this rather novel plan might well be tried much more often. And so all the players here are “friends from Chicago,” where Frank grew u and did erstwhile MJT leader and drummer, George Coleman, tenor sax, ahs played with Max Roach and is currently with the Slide Hampton Octet. Pat Patrick plays baritone sax, as well as flute on The Crystal Ball.
Perhaps the two oldest friends are pianist Chris Anderson (The Crystal Bass – the title is slightly a pun – is dedicated to him) and bassist Hill Lee. It is typical of Strozier, who tends to be quite self-effacing about his work, that the first time he heard the music he had recorded, his attention was mainly taken up by the work of his friends. ON several occasions, he would look up in pleasure at something done by the rhythm section. “They know just what to play,” he said, “I wouldn’t have tried The Man That Got Away with any other piano player.” Of Bill Lee, he says that he bassist was a great influence on his writing. Strozier attended the Chicago Conservatory for four years, but “Bill showed me some things you don’t get in school.” If one compliments Strozier on his tunes, one soon finds oneself listening to him tell about how well Bill Lee writes.
On Frank’s tunes (I will speak of them even if he will not) it is interesting that the instrumentation contains no brass. This voicing does provide a welcome change from the standard trumpet-sax-and-rhythm format, but was not arrived at through a desire for novelty. “I don’t have anything against brass,” Strozier says, “but when I wrote the music, I heard if this way.” The fist of the pieces, Long Night, which gives the album its title, is a blues. It is not, however, a blues in the currently fashionable style, but has hints of Ellingtonia in it. That may be because, as Frank says, “I like to play blues the way some of the older musicians, like Johnny Hodges, do.” Unusual not only in its lovely melodic line but also in the virtuosity of the writing for three reeds is the waltz, The Need For Love. The Latin-styled Crystal Ball explores the possibilities inherent in writing for two flutes. The first of the two solos on this instrument is Strozier’s, which in one place sounds startingly like Miles Davis; the other is by Patrick. The last, more of a usual solo vehicle than the others, is Just Think It Over.
Personal maturity does not necessarily go hand in hand with musical maturity, particularly in jazz, but in Frank Strozier’s case it seems to. The best evidence of that is his pleasure at not having been singled out as a great new star this early in his career. He is aware of what such overinflated publicity can do, and is glad that it has not been up t him to justify claims he never made. This is a highly sensible and rare attitude, and it is good that he takes it. So I will make no claims for his work other than to say that an album like this, from a musician of his age, is an excellent indication that, as he matures, he is likely to make extremely valuable contributions. He has already done quite a bit.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photo by STEVE SCHAPIRO
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (JLP 956) and Monaural (JLP56) form
JAZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc,
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York