WYNTON KELLY: WHISPER NOT
Quartet (Side 1): Wynton Kelly (p) Kenny Burrell (g) Paul Chambers (b)
Philly Joe Jones (drs)
Trio (Side 2): Kelly (p) Chambers (b) Jones (drs) NYC; January 31, 1958
1. Whisper Not (7:07) (Benny Golson)
2. Action (7:07) (Wynton Kelly)
3. Dark Eyes (5:53) (traditional)
1. Strong Man (5:12) (Oscar Brown, Jr.)
2. Ill Wind (4:19) (Koehler – Arlen)
3. Don't Explain (5:30) (Billie Holiday)
4. You Can't Get Away (6:21) (Wynton Kelly)
[notes of RLP-254]
As the cover of this album should suggest, there is a lot of WYNTON KELLY on display here. Or, turning the phrase around a bit to put it more explicitly in musical terms, Kelly is a whole lot of piano player - about as much piano player as you're likely to find anywhere. He is young (born in 1931), but having made his professional experienced veteran, his style and approach fully formed and individual.
Extending the cover's multiple-angle theme, it can be noted that Wynton is also a remarkably versatile and many-sided pianist: a top accompanist, and outstanding ensemble musician in big band or small, and above all a sensitive and lyrical soloist. Spotlighted on this LP with a top-level rhythm section, he gets a full-scale opportunity to show his stuff, to demonstrate that, whether driving or tender, rhythmic or melodic, he is always an usually refreshing, skillful and inventive jazz artist.
All this, when in addition the man concerned is still in his mid-twenties, may seem a large order: but he simple fact is that nothing written here would appear even slightly our of line to any of the very many musicians who know and respect his talents and value highly Wynton's presence on a job or at a recording "inside" reputation, this initial LP for Riverside happens to be Wynton's first recording as a leader in a half-dozen years, and only his second altogether. In this era of what sometimes seems indiscriminate recording activity, this is surely starting. We would hope that the present album will do much to blast a path for Wynton through that mysterious roadblock that so often separates valuable jazz artists from the attention of the public for so long. Nevertheless, Wynton's situation up to now is worth noting as a startling example of the strange irrelevance of merit to fame in jazz. When both the kinds can also remain non-famous, it is somehow worse even than if only second-raters became stars - then, at least, one could safely mutter about the low standards of public taste. But as matters stand, the muttering must be limited to fairly bewildered, vague phrases about the importance of "the breaks," or "Proper exposure," or something.
To Kelly, raised in Brooklyn, involved with music for almost as long as he can remember, and with varied, solid background under his belt (including a hitch in the rhythm and blues field, three years as Dinah Washington's accompanist, and work with both Lester Young and Dizzy Gillespie), cutting his debut album at the age of twenty must have seemed like an early big break. But it wasn't. It was followed by two years in the army, and then a span of time in which he appeared to be permanently type-cast as a sideman. Kelly was working - most notably for a year with Gillespie's big band; and was being used on a variety of record dates (usually being singled out for approving critical notice); but that is not nearly enough if you happen to be a maturing young talent, ambitiously anxious to present yourself to the world on your own terms. Supposedly alert record companies can have their blind spots - a crack we feel quite justified in making because we too were ready to slip into that pattern of regarding Wynton as a fine choice to work on someone else's date, but not thinking past that. It was not until the night that a mutual friend, the late altoist Ernie Henry, bawled us out for this that we woke up to the realities of the case. Those realities - which have to do with just how much strength and swing and beauty this really exceptional pianist has to offer - are finally available on this LP for all to observe.
There are actually two quite different flavors here, which can be taken as further evidence of the many-sidedness of Kelly. The quartet / trio division is not dictated by tempo (almost all the numbers are within the swinging middle-tempo range that Wynton refers); it's just that some selections seemed to call for the more subdued, moody, almost delicate vein that fits with backing by bass-and-guitar only, while others indicated a firm, full-bodied approach and, therefore, the addition of drums. Kenny Burrell's guitar is in the 'shift' position, serving rhythmically in the tightly-knit trio and switching to more of a horn's role when Philly Joe Jones takes over the job of supplying a basic drive.
Two of the trio tunes were brought to Wynton's attention when he and Paul Chambers worked with an all-star quintet backing singer Abbey Lincoln (RLP12-251): Strong Man, a moody new tune that sounds as if it ought to become a jazz standard; and Billie Holiday's Don't Explain (which, incidentally, Wynton has not recorded on piano before: He played bass on a pianoless version in Abbey's album). Ill Wind is a plaintive, relatively neglected Harold Arlen strain. The fourth item is named in honor of the assumption that somehow You Can't Get Away from playing a blues on just about every LP. On the quartet side, there is a rhythmic updating of the Russian folk-melody, Dark Eyes; an opportunity for everyone to wail on the catchy original, Action; and an effective alteration of Benny Golson's wonderfully melodic Whisper Not, which was originally written for the bog Gillespie band.
There is little need for formal introduction of the supporting cast. KENNY BURRELL is the young Detroiter who is currently doing so much to bring the guitar back onto a frequent and important role in modern jazz. PAUL CHAMBERS, from he same city, is one of most impressive new bassists of recent years and a formidable part of Miles Davis' group. PHILLY JOE JONES, also one of Miles' mainstays, is to our way of thinking well-described by pointing out that he is the drummer most often used on Riverside recording sessions.
NOTE: JLP-83 reissue of RLP12-254
A HIGH DIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced, and noted written by, ORRIN KEEPNEWS.
Engineer: AARON NATHANSON (Metropolitan Sound Studios).
ORPHEUM RECORDS, INC.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, NY