Track Selection: Sunrise, Sunset
Recognise it? Yes, from the stage show Fiddler on the Roof, a pretty tune, to which Criss adds new poignancy. Forget the show, I’ve never see it anyway. Sonny constructs it as “call and answer”, with the tune calling, and the alto soaring to answer, converging in the refrain. A lovely piece.
Track 2: Steves Blues
A fast-paced minor key blues which showcases Criss’s fleet figure and turn, running the changes, a sparkling virtuoso of the alto, up there with Phil Woods, Lee Konitz and Art Pepper and Eric Dolphy, not to mention…
Sonny Criss (as) Walter Davis, Jr.(p) Paul Chambers (b) Alan Dawson (d) recorded October 21, 1966, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. recording by Rudy Van Gelder, produced by Don Schlitten
Another one of the great overlooked jazz albums of the sixties by one of the great overlooked alto players of the bop years, Sonny Criss at the peak of his playing in 1966. Another winner of the Downbeat award for “Talent Deserving Of Wider Recognition”, Criss spent several years of the previous decade playing and recording in Paris, apparently to escape L.A. Sounds as good a reason as any. In fact no reason at all is as good as any. Beverley Hills Bop anyone? Perhaps if he had followed the well-worn path to New York things would have turned out differently.
Walter Davis’s piano is an unexpected bonus, another player deserving of more attention. Paul Chamber and Alan Dawson complete the essential members of Criss’s A Team. You will not have heard a lot more of Criss, as he died at the age of only fifty in 1977, as a consequence of serious illness.
The alto is a fascinating instrument, capable of mind-mangling speed, slowed only by the inventiveness of the player. The upper register has a beauty of its own, though my heart belongs to bari. Having grown up a guitar player, I find the range of the saxophone thrilling. It’s not easy to cover all the notes in three octaves on a six string fretboard, whereas it just flows under the fingers of the saxophone, an instrument that belongs up there with the greatest inventions of all time, alongside the jet engine and the mobile phone. Above them, in my view.
Vinyl: Prestige 7511 Mono Blue/ silver trident
A smoking cover, no Surgeon General’s warning.
VAN GELDER machine-stamped, and a first release – no previous catalogue number. Nice.
Source: Central London record store
This is more than a shop. It is a place where a casual visit to check for anything new frequently turns into an hour or more conversation with other interesting customers. This visit was an hour and a half as not one but two interesting people wandered in and joined in. One, a former Southend record dealer, jazz and soul man, and now music educator working with young underprivileged kids, the other a German photographer and zen master who just happened to have lived in Cologne, knew Gigi Campi, had seen many of the great jazz musicians from the German scene (Albert Manglesdorf, Francy Boland and countless more touring jazz artists) – live! You just can’t pass up such an opportunity for interesting conversation.
One of the nice things about modern jazz – and there are many – is the people who like it are invariably nice interesting intelligent knowledgeable and passionate about the music. Is that something you could say about other genres? The great thing about say death metal thrash is…nothing: teenage angst, pimples, and the fact no one else understands you. I declare Modern Jazz “music for grown-ups”, albeit a very, very small under-appreciated demographic, forgotten by business following the pied piper of youth.