Kenny Drew recorded fairly frequently in the 1950s but after his Blue Note album (reissued on this CD), he moved to Europe and did not appear as a leader on records until 1973. Still just 32 in 1960, Drew was teamed with the young trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (who already showed great potential), tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes on six of his originals (including "Undercurrent," "The Pot's On" and "Groovin' the Blues"). A fine hard bop set.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
Back in January of 1950, Kenneth Sidney Drew made his first appearance on record. Howard McGhee was the leader and the other
featured soloists were Brew Moore and J. J. Johnson. One of the six sides released was I'll Remember April. The label, in addition to
stating "Howard McGhee's All Stars", further read, "Introducing Kenny Drew". This was Drew's spotlight number and as with many other
important jazz debuts, the label was Blue Note.
Later, in 1953, Kenny made his first album as a leader. Again it was Blue Note who recorded him, this time in a trio with Curly Russell
and Art Blakey. A 10-inch IP, it was composed mainly of standards.
In the late 1950s. Drew again appeared on Blue Note in a key-sideman role on the significant Blue Train by John Coltrane. Now, the
wheel has come full circle and Kenny is leading his own quintet for the label which gave him his start, eleven years ago.
There has been quite a development by him through the years, from a young, exciting, relatively unpolished player to a mature soloist. I
say relatively because even at the time of his first recording. Drew had reached a professional plateau. But then he was a boy and now
he is a man. That this man has lost none of his youthful intensity, or effectiveness in communicating emotion, is strongly evident in this
Drew was born in New York City in August of 1928. At the age of 5, he began studying classical piano with a private teacher and at 8,
gave a recital. This early background is similar to that of Bud Powell, the man who later became his main inspiration as a jazz pianist. It
explains why Kenny has always had a strong pianistic approach; that is to say, his articulation, touch and general dynamics are the
equipment of a keyboard artist, not a piano pounder. Yet with his abundant technique, he has remained a solid jazz player, not an
empty embroiderer. And while he can swing as hard as anyone, Kenny Drew also has a lot of romance in his soul.
After digging Fats Waller, at 12, and then Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, Drew attended the High School of Music and Art. While
furthering his education at former Mayor La Guardians pet institution he was known as a hot boogie woogie player but passed through
this phase before graduation.
Kenny's first professional job was as accompanist at Pearl Primus' dance school. At the same time, he was alternating with Walter
Bishop Jr. in a neighborhood band that included Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. In this period, he used to hang-out on
52nd Street to listen to Charlie Parker and Powell and began sitting in at various jam sessions around town. I remember how he
impressed me, the first time I heard him at a private session, playing with Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan in the summer of 1949.
After his recording debut. Drew worked with jazz greats Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Charlie Parker at various times in 1950-
51. Then, in 1952-3, he played with Buddy De Franco's quartet before settling in California. He worked both in Los Angeles and San
Francisco before returning to the East as Dinah Washington's accompanist in March of 1956. From the spring of 1957, when he
worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for two months, until June of 1958, when he joined Buddy Rich, Kenny free-lanced around
New York with Coltrane, Donald Byrd and Johnny Griffin. He left Rich in March of 1959 and that summer headed his own trio at the Cork 'N Bib in Westbury, L. I. In the fall, he moved his base of operations to Florida, working again in a trio context in Miami and Pensacola.
1960 found him back in New York. He appeared at the Jazz Artists Guild festival at Newport and also at the same organization's presentation in an East Side theater. Those who ventured to the short-lived club. Jazz City, U.S.A. in Greenwich Village, heard him perform brilliantly with Kenny Dorham's quartet. When, in 1961, Freddie Redd left for England to play in the London production of The Connection, Kenny took his place in the New York cast.
Playing the piano excellently is not Drew's only accomplishment. On that first recording date with McGhee, five out of the six numbers were originals. Four of them were written by Kenny. Here, all six selections are his. Two, Punk-cosity and The Pot's On were written for Buddy Rich. The other four were penned especially for this date.
The quintet that plays Drew's music here had never worked as a unit before the recording but the tremendous cohesion and spirit far outdistances many of today's permanent groups in the same genre. Of course, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes have been section mates in Cannonball Adderley's quintet since 1959 and this explains their hand-in-glove performance. With Drew, they combine to form a rhythm trio of unwavering beat and great strength.
The two hornmen are on an inspired level throughout. Hank Mobley has developed into one of our most individual and compelling tenor saxophonists. His sound, big and virile, seems to assert his new confidence with every note. Mobley has crystallized his own style, mixing continuity of ideas, a fine sense of time and passion into a totality that grabs the listener and holds him from the opening phrase.
Freddie Hubbard is a youngster but his accomplished playing makes it impossible to judge him solely from the standpoint of newcomer. This is not to say that he is not going to grow even further as a musician but that he has already reached a level of performance that takes some cats five more years to reach. Others never even get there. This is the second opportunity Blue Note listeners have had to hear Hubbard and Mobley in tandem. The first time was in Freddie's Goin' Up.
The insinuating pattern that Drew rumbles under the statement of the horns explains the name of the opening, title-number Undercurrent The tremendous excitement starts right there and bursts into full flame with Mobley's solo. The level of intensity continues right through the fiery Hubbard, fantastically fleet (but meaty) Drew and the exchanges with the intelligently explosive Hayes. Undercurrent sets a standard that is maintained throughout the album. It gets you into a good groove and the group keeps you there until you are gently placed into reflective calm by the poignant Ballade.
Like Undercurrent, Funk-cosity is a minor key song but of different character. The tempo is medium and the groove is natural funk. This time Hubbard leads off and Mobley is second. Both sing out loud and clear in logically developed, warmly felt solos. Drew shows that he has absorbed the stylistic changes that Horace Silver brought about during the last decade without radically altering his own personality.
Lion's Den has no connection with the Bennie Harris exposition on the changes of Perdido that Vie Dickenson recorded for Blue Note in the '40s. Lion's (Alfred) den was then on Lexington Avenue; now it is on West 61st Street. This is a happy swinger which utilizes interludes of suspended rhythm to add contrast and, thereby, impetus to each solo.
Mobley's tenor springs right out of the ensemble on The Pot's On as complete master of the beat. Each soloist is given a little send-off as Drew uses the horns to re-charge the batteries as it were. The intensity of the rhythm section is strongly evident here. Drew is masterful as the ideas flow from his fingers in a manner that leaves no doubt that he is in complete control of the situation at all times. Groovin' The Blues is a minor-key blues that is jazz-strength personified. The free, exuberant, shouting quality that each soloist embodies really hits you in heart, head and feet. Jones' short bit is his only solo of the date.
Kenny begins the lovely Ballade (written "for a certain young lady") with an out of tempo introduction. Hubbard carries the exquisite melody and then Kenny has the stage all to himself. His solo, which makes full use of both hands, is extremely lyrical and continually touching. Hubbard returns and the two horns then join to close with piano and Jones' bow underneath them.
Drew's reflections on the current scene, indicative of where his heart is, are worth noting. He likes Horace Silver and Wynton Kelly very much. McCoy Tyner is his favorite among the newer pianists and he also has good things to say about Bobby Timmons. Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham get his hearty approval. He "digs the direction" that Coltrane is taking and regrets Sonny Rollins' absence from the scene.
If you have never heard Kenny Drew play, these preferences may give you an idea of where he is, generally speaking. To really hear "where it is," just listen to his piano. It speaks volumes.