Compilation. Date of Release - Jan 28, 2003
While Concord continues to release excellent mainstream jazz albums, the label also has an extraordinary back catalog from the '70s and the '80s. Straight Ahead packages two albums-Trio (1981) and Overseas Special(1984)-by pianist Monty Alexander, guitarist Herb Ellis, and bassist Ray Brown. The first disc captures the happy meeting of musical minds as the participants explore nine bubbly tunes. While the band can certainly cook on a piece like "I Want to Be Happy," the drummer-less trio brings a lighter touch to classics like "Sweet Georgia Brown." The four-to-five minute length of most of these songs leaves room for extended solos while retaining the taut, intimate feel of good trio work. The live Overseas Special was recorded almost two years later at the Satin Doll Club in Tokyo, and makes a fine companion to the earlier album. Here, the fellows stretch the songs a bit, offering a nine-minute version of "But Not for Me" and eight-minute take of "C.C. Rider." Also notable are two originals, Ellis' swinging "Orange in Pain" and Brown's bouncy "F.S.R." Both albums have plenty to offer to fans of any of the participants, and Straight Ahead is an apt title for the fine music Alexander, Brown, and Ellis make together.
All Music Guide
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If there was one aspect of jazz combo and big band Instrumentation that changed more than any other during the 1970s, it was the proliferation of drums. More and more groups fielded not just a drummer, but an additional percussionist. Often, when one horn player was soloing, the rest of the band would pick up odd percussion instruments and shake them or bang them as if this added something of rhythmic value, It is possible to prove, however, as this recording certainly does, that the removal rather than the addition of drummers can work as a plus factor. The instrumentation you hear on this disc-grand piano, electric guitar and upright bass-has a long and distinguished history, one that stretches back far beyond the lifetime of most Jazz fans.
The name that comes immediately to mind is that of Nat King Cole, From the late 1930s, when he was best known as a Jazz pianist in Los Angeles, through the late '40s, by which time he had achieved worldwide fame as a singer, Nat used piano, bass and guitar as the nucleus of his format, even when larger ensembles were built around the trio.
The sound, with its natural and logical blend, became one of the most popular and most imitated among 1940s combos. Ray Charles tried for a King Cole Trio sound in his early days. The Soft Winds, a similar group that included a young guitarist named Herb Ellis, made its recording debut in 1947.
Oscar Peterson took the format one step further when he decided on a trio, of which Ray Brown was a founding member in 1952, with Irving Ashby, then Barney Kessel, and then (from 1953-8) Herb Ellis. After Herb left, Oscar replaced him with a drummer, but from time to time he has reverted to the format that served him so well in the first years of his fame.
It would be an over-simplification to characterize the group you are about to hear (or are perhaps now hearing) simply as the old Oscar Peterson Trio with Monty Alexander replacing the leader. First and foremost, Monty Alexander has developed a fuller and firmer personality than he had in the days when some critics tended to compare him to Oscar. True, he has named Oscar as an early influence, but he also cited Nat Cole, Ahmad Jamal and, interestingly, Milt Jackson and Sonny Rollins. It is clear, though, from the very first chorus of "The Masquerade Is Over," that Monty today is very much his own man.
The dispensability of drums becomes evident in this fiercely cooking opener. Monty tackles the song as a stomper rather than the ballad it used to be: moreover, no rhythm section with Ray Brown as a member need worry about achieving a potently swinging beat, The subdued side of the trio is appropriately applied to "You Call It Madness." This engaging melody, dating back a half century, was the theme song of an early radio singer, Russ Columbo.
The blues track, "Blues For Junior," is just the timeless 12-bar formula, with echoes of a 1940s pianist named Charles Brown in Monty's tremolos, Ray and Herb, in their solos, flesh out the blues feeling established by the leader. (The term "leader" is hardly fitting, since this is essentially a three-way partnership.) "Sweet Georgia Brown" is older than anyone in the trio; it has been around since 1925 and lends itself to any tempo as well as to musicians reflecting any idiom, Herb Ellis works with the old changes as if he had just discovered them and is happy about it; in fact, both on the slow and the later up-tempo passages he reminds us here what superb control he has, along with consistent creativity.
Of roughly the same vintage, "I Want To Be Happy" is mainly notable for the personal articulation and buoyant lines of Monty's solos, alternating with Herb's no less incisive statements.
The song "Put Your Little Foot Right Out" Is of obscure origin, Said to have originated as "Varsovienne," a French folk-dance melody, It was adapted and published by Larry Spier in 1939, and was sung by Ann Sheridan in a 1945 movie, San Antonio. Miles Davis, of course, established it as a jazz standard. This version finds Monty in a slightly more laid-back groove than is his custom, especially in the delightfully simple out-chorus.
The title of "Captain Bill" may seem mysterious until you notice that it is a blues, modulating from F to D-Flat. The most famous blues In those two keys is "One O'clock Jump," the theme song of a bandleader often seen in a captain's yachting cap, and called Bill by his friends. But this is no Basle imitation; only the keys are the same.
The song "To Each His Own" always sounded to me like a barroom ballad, or something a tenor might intone in an operetta. It never struck me as much of a jazz vehicle until, in this incarnation, Monty upgraded it harmonically, melodically and rhythmically.
A fellow pianist, Horace Silver, composed and recorded "Sister Sadie" in 1959. Monty invests it with just the right tempo and beat, leaving room for splendid choruses by Ray and Herb (note the tetter's frequent use of flat thirds for a true blues coloration).
This recording is something of a change of pace for all concerned. Monty Alexander has been associated with the Caribbean concepts of his native Jamaica, and with various other small band settings; Herb has been working mostly, these past few years, as part of a two-guitar set-up with Barney Kessel, and Ray has been into just about everything, though the chances to work with just piano and guitar are rarer than they were in the days before he left Peterson and settled on the West Coast.
Thus, if it is not (and isn't designed to be) typical of the recorded annals of these three compatible giants, it does give them an opportunity to interact with joyous and infectious abandon, and without the noisy or intrusive drumming that has robbed so many jazz performances of their subtlety. (Note to any drummer who happens to read this: of course I didn't mean you).
Here's the proof-veteran jazz pros never fade away, they just turn on. More Look over the personnel on this LP-bassist Ray Brown first recorded in 1945 with Dizzy Gillespie; guitarist Herb Ellis played and recorded with both Glen Grey and Jimmy Dorsey's bands In the mid-1940s; Monty Alexander, pianist, was born in the World War II era and was barely 20 when he landed a New York jazz club job and made his first records.
These jazz masters represent over 100 years of experience among them and their performance on this LP, individually and collectively, is a wondrous thing to behold.
Note the setting-a Tokyo nightclub named in honor of a Duke Ellington composition ("Satin Doll") and filled with an unusually demonstrative, enthusiastic audience. When Ray and Herb began their careers (and even as late as 1960, when Monty first gigged in his native Jamaica) there was no strong Japanese jazz following. (Toshiko Akiyoshi came to the U.S. in 1956 so she could play more jazz-there just wasn't enough interest yet in jazz in the Ghent.) Interestingly, the brilliance of this LP musically is enhanced by the technical brilliance of the production-the Japanese have combined their enthusiasm for jazz with their magnificent recording techniques-1 have never heard Ray's bass so beautifully captured on tape, and its sound-balance with Herb's guitar is absolutely perfect.
When the two string instruments play a tandem-lead, Monty's piano becomes their accompaniment: when he solos, they enhance his rhythm and harmonies. So beautiful is the mellow mix that the music doesni leap from your speakers-it flows, smoothly, evenly, brilliantly.
There is much to be said, of course, both pro and con about "live" recording. But when veteran jazz professionals get together there is no question that the club or concert setting is far superior to the controlled, antiseptic confines of an engineer-dominated recording studio. The recording of Jazz must be left in the hands of those who know and/or play jazz, and in such a case as this recording, the artists are captured splendidly as they play improvised jazz before a knowledgeable audience.
What fun these three have working together! It's evident and clear on every cut. Ray and Herb have been colleagues in various groups ever since they worked in Oscar Peterson's quartet, and with their magnificent technical and improvisational abilities they continue after all these years to draw out the best from one another.
"A Time For Love," Johnny Mandel's gorgeous ballad, is a particular favorite of the Los Angeles jazz community. Herb's guitar improvisations on the tune here are among his finest on records - and that's saying a lot.
"Grange" has long been Herb's nickname among musicians and friends-deriving, years ago, from the color of his hair, And, when in his most concentrated and creative mood, an almost pained expression comes over his face. Thus, the tune-title "Orange In Pain." The interplay between Ray and Herb on this one, by the way, is breathtaking. Monty dances over the keyboard like The Count, as Ray and Herb have at it.
F.S.R." is "for Sonny Rollins"-a boppish line similar in structure to Sonny's "Doxy" and a fine display piece for all iree of our jazzmen here. Monty's versatility is much in evidence-of his many superb solos on this disc, :hink the one on "F.S.R," is the best, moving through a number of styles along the way.
For All We Know," a stunning beauty from 1934, gives Monty a chance to stretch out on a ballad in much the Ray that Herb does on "A Time For Love." But soon the presentation becomes a group effort and Herb, then Ray, squeeze in imaginative solos. The ability of these guys to move from the lead line to solos and back into ensemble is astonishing, Gershwin's "But Not For Me," from the 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, is a favorite "opener" for jazzmen-attractive melody, fine harmonic pattern and a comfortable, medium tempo. It's been kicked around a good deal-cometist Red Nichols headed the pit-band for the original Broadway production; Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and many other jazzmen played in the Nichols band during the show's initial run.
C.C. Rider" takes the LP home in style-might as well use a classic blues, up-tempo, to remind us all where the jazz roots dig. No one has ever been sure just what "C.C." means-Jon Hendricks, who knows a bit about lyrics (and the blues, too), insists it's a corruption of "circuit rider." Gthers say, nope, it's "easy rider." Ma Rainey recorded it first (1924) but no one at the session knew how to spell it-finally, "See See Rider" was used on the Paramount label. Big Bill Broonzy insisted it was "Sea Sea Rider" and referred to sailors in the lyrics.
Ray, Herb and Monty, I'm sure, have never concerned themselves with the meaning of "C.C. Rider"-but they sure enjoy playing it.