Larry Young In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance)
“There it sits,” I once wrote of the Hammond B3 organ in notes for a Don Patterson album.* “There it looms. A weapon. No, an arsenal of tubes, transistors, capacitors, resistors. A machine of infinite volume, an engine of amplification, a sonic hammer of Thor capable of driving entire populations mad and deaf.”
Tongue removed from cheek, I went on to point out that Patterson was an exception to the of rule assault by B3. Among the lessons he learned from Jimmy Smith—the reigning jazz organist of the second half of the twentieth century—was restraint. Smith himself did not often repress his aggressive leanings, but he was capable of quietness and sensitivity, and Patterson absorbed those aspects of his playing.
Larry Young took the organ even further than Patterson beyond the conventions that Smith established for the instrument. Attentive to changes in music inspired by John Coltrane, Young absorbed harmonic practices of Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner and applied them to the organ, using intervals of fourths and other Tyner chordal devices. Those dovetailed with what he learned in Newark as a piano student of Olga Von Till, who had studied in Budapest with Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi, giants of twentieth century classical music. Young combined harmonic sophistication, highly developed keyboard technique and smoothness of touch with the joy of headlong swing.
With the guidance and cooperation of France’s Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Francaise (ORTF), producer Zev Feldman found recordings of radio broadcasts that Young made in Paris in 1964 and 1965. Young’s Paris sojourn was before his celebrated Blue Note albums, before his brief time with Miles Davis, and before recordings with drummer Tony Williams’s Lifetime. Those associations brought the organist a burst of celebrity before his death at 38 in 1978. The ORTF recordings present Young as a member of tenor saxophonist Nathan Davis’s quintet, bringing those two together with trumpeter Woody Shaw and drummer Billy Brooks, all Newarkians in their early twenties reunited in Paris. Other tracks in the two-CD set combine the quintet with French musicians organized by pianist Jack Devíal. Those octet performances include two long blues tracks, “La valse grise” and “Discothèque” that disclose how accomplished Young, Shaw and Davis were at this early stage of their careers. They also find the French tenor saxophonist Jean-Claude Fohrenbach in impressive form.
Throughout, Shaw blazes through his solos with energy, high-register control and harmonic acumen that belie his age; he was 19 when the earliest of these tracks were recorded. In a twenty-minute excursion through Shaw’s “Zoltan,” the unity among the Newark pals forecasts the achievement of the album Unity, recorded in Newark less than a year later by Young and Shaw with saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Elvin Jones. The Resonance album’s concluding track, “Larry’s Blues,” demonstrates that Young the pianist was father to Young the organist in terms of touch, harmonic acuity and the gliding phrasing that made him a unique presence on the instrument, as he remains to this day.
*The Patterson album is These Are Soulful Days, Muse 5032