There are undoubtedly pairs of CDs farther apart in spirit than these; say, New Orleans Rhythm Kings 1922-1925 and The Art of Mabel Mercer. Well, I like both of those together under my roof. Weber and Salim are welcome to join them.
Eberhard Weber, Stages Of A Long Journey (ECM). In 2005 Weber’s home town, Stuttgart, Germany, threw him a 65th birthday celebration. Weber has staked out territory that borders the jazz avant garde, modern classical minimalism and Bill Evans romanticism, with a hint of Charles Mingus rambunctiousness. The concert in the acoustically blessed Theaterhaus included several of the composer and virtuoso bassist’s most popular pieces. The SWR Southwest Radio Orchestra Stuttgart provided support in passionate performances of Weber orchestrations, with their contrasting textures and arresting silences. Longtime Weber colleagues vibraharpist Gary Burton, saxophonist Jan Gabarek and pianist Wolfgang Dauner joined in the festivities, which ECM recorded with its customary clarity and fullness. Burton is as lyrical as ever. Gabarek plays with force that may surprise devotees of his work on ECM albums that verge on easy listening. The title composition features all hands, to dramatic effect.
Weber plays his electric upright bass, save on one piece, but it is the exception that steals the album. In a duo performance of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” with his old friend Dauner, the natural tone, sensitivity and concentrated power of Weber’s work on double bass made me wish that he had reversed the CD’s eleven-to-one track ratio of electric to acoustic.
A.K. Salim, Pretty For The People (Savoy). Salim, whose surname was originally Atkinson, was a Chicago contemporary of trombonist Bennie Green and tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons. A composer and arranger who wrote for Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, among others, he left music for a time, then reappeared in the late 1950s to write for Tito Puente and lead a few record dates for Savoy. Salim’s writing reflects a bit of his admiration for Tadd Dameron, but has harmonic undercurrents and a sauciness all his own. What makes Pretty For The People so satisfying is the platform it provides for eight musicians who in a large sense epitomize the state of jazz in 1957, when it was recorded. They were:
Kenny Dorham, trumpet
Johnny Griffin, tenor saxophone
Buster Cooper, trombone
Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone
Wynton Kelly, piano
Paul Chamber, bass
Max Roach, drums
Chino Pozo, congas
Any reasonably hip jazz listener will see that list, consider the year and conjure up an approximation of the style. It was bebop, of course, going through a change wrought in part by the so-called hard bop movement that included groups led by Roach, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and–of increasing importance–Miles Davis. The most important thing about this recording, however, is not its watershed nature, but the music.
When the drummer Kenny Washington was in town with Bill Charlap’s trio a few weeks ago, he mentioned the album and, when I drew a blank, strongly recommended it. It took a week or so to acquire it. I have listened to it most days since, and–in the immortal words of James Brown–I feel good. The playing is unselfconscious and swinging. As extensively as I have heard them, Dorham, Adams and Griffin have never given me more enjoyment. Buster Cooper is a revelation. Even the era’s mandatory conga drums can’t derail the perfect rhythm section.
As a bonus, you get period liner notes of the exclamation point school, with passages like this:
Kenny Dorham floored me! Without the hustle-bustle of the whirring, buzzing, frantic backgrounds and tempi fans are coming to associate with him of late, he emerges sensitively and surely in the most perfect sequence of solo and ensemble statements heard from his corner in quite a spell!
An ex-Kentonite who has returned to the fold (Pepper Adams’s) statements are direct and skillful on the unwieldy instrument, yet not without bite!
Apparently, the album has never been out of print since its LP days. I’m not sure how it managed to escape me all these years, but I’m glad that I have it now. Thank you, Kenny Washington. I owe you one.