Recorded New York City, December 8 and 16, 1960
Les Spann was a perfect example of a jazz artist who had an impressive list of sideman credentials but never got very far as a leader. Although he played with heavyweights like Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and Ben Webster, the guitarist/flutist didn't record on his own extensively - which is regrettable because Spann was an intriguing musician. How many guitarists are equally proficient when it comes to playing the flute? Spann's two instruments get equal time on Gemini, an excellent hard bop date that was produced by the ubiquitous Orrin Keepnews. This album, which Fantasy reissued on CD on its Original Jazz Classics imprint in 2001, was recorded at two different sessions in December 1960. One finds Spann on flute, while the other finds him on guitar. Both sessions employ Julius Watkins on French horn, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Sam Jones on upright bass, but there are two different drummers - Al "Tootie" Heath at one session, Louis Hayes at the other. Spann gives 100 percent at both sessions. As a guitarist, he is bluesy and expressive on material that ranges from Quincy Jones' "Stockholm Sweetnin'" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" to the standard "There Is No Greater Love." But he is equally impressive when he picks up the flute on tracks that include the melancholy "Afterthought" and a lyrical performance of the standard "It Might as Well Be Spring." One thing Spann doesn't do on this album is play both flute and guitar on the same tune; he is careful to keep them separate. And while it would have been interesting to hear him play a flute solo right after a guitar solo, Gemini is still excellent. It's too bad that Spann didn't do a lot more recording as a leader.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Gemini," the constellation that forms the third sign of the zodiac, is pictorially represented as having the shape of a set of twins, sitting side by side. Not that we intend to get too deeply into the astrology of the situation, but the fact is that Les Spann, who is the focal point of this unusual-sounding album, was born under this sign. When you consider also that Les is one of those extreme rarities in jazz, an artist equally worth listening to on two quite dissimilar instruments, the twins aspect of this LP is sharply underlined. We won't go quite so far as to say that it was written in the stars, but you can draw your own conclusions....
The "twin" talents of Les Spann are actually the key to the construction of this record. On all selections there is a formidable rhythm section and the mellow-but-spirited French horn of Julius Watkins, by all odds the finest jazz performer on that off-trail instrument. On four tunes, this combination is led by the rich sound of Spann's flute; on the other four, it is Les's brilliant guitar work that is featured. Both sets of sound-blends make for uncommonly intriguing listening.
Leslie L. Spann, Jr., was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on May 23, 1932 (just two days into the Gemini period). Attracted to the guitar since childhood because he "always liked the sound," he taught himself to play it while attending high school in New York. Then, becoming a music major at Tennessee State University in Nashville, he selected the flute when required to learn a second instrument. Spann's return to New York City in 1957 coincided with the Army draft call of his friend, guitarist Calvin Newborn, who recommended Les to take his place with brother Phineas Newborn's group. In August 1958, he began an active year with Dizzy Gillespie's quintet, working alongside bassist Sam Jones. In 1959 Les joined the Quincy Jones band for a European tour and at this writing is still a member of that impressive group of intercontinental travelers.
Spann is heard on flute here on two standards: a swinging version of the oldie, "Smile," and a ballad treatment of "It Might as Well Be Spring"; plus an uptempo blues by Julius Watkins titled in honor of Les's zodiac sign, and "Afterthought," a moody piece written by Spann in his Nashville days. The guitar numbers include a gentle "There Is No Greater Love," two notable compositions by the major bandleaders in Les's life (Quincy's "Stockholm Sweetnin'" and Dizzy's "Con Alma") and a Spann original dedicated to Quincy Jones: "Q's Dues Blues."
In addition to Watkins (who is also a key man in Quincy's orchestra), Spann's support here comes from a very solid section: Sam Jones's masterful bass, the lyrical Tommy Flanagan on piano, and "Jazztet" drummer Al Heath on the guitar numbers, replaced on the flute session by Louis Hayes, who is Sam Jones's rhythm partner in the Cannonball Adderley quintet. Hayes filled in when other commitments made Heath unavailable, and it wasn't until much later that it was noted that both men are not only Geminis, but share the same May 31 birthday! Like we said, it was all in the stars....
-Orrin Keepnews and Chris Albertson