Hot on the heels of Frank Strozier, celebrating the 700th post at LJC (Strange, this started as a sort of Blue Note tribute site, look now where it has gone… jazz all over) Continuing on the theme of artists deserving of greater recognition: altoist Sonny Criss, recording career 1946-77.
Sonny Criss (alto saxophone) Walter Davis Jr. (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Alan Dawson (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 23, 1967
From the twilight years of bop, but the line up of Chambers, Walter Davis and Alan Dawson never fails to swing. Criss is an alto player who deserves a lot more attention than he enjoyed in his lifetime. His recording career stretches back to 1946, first appearance on record age 19. Recording initially for early classic labels such as Emarcy, Regent, Crown, Savoy, Norgran, Brunswick and Imperial, it was not until 1965 that he signed to Prestige as leader. A string of a half-dozen or more titles appeared in quick succession, Weinstock struggling to keep Prestige afloat through sheer volume of releases.
At end of the decade Criss relocated to California, where presumably work for an alto player was more plentiful, but recording only erratically until his death in 1977 – last title The Joy Of Sax (Impulse! AS-9326 – green bullseye label) in the slightly uncomfortable fusion company of Lee Ritenour (electric guitar) and Patrice Rushen (electric piano).
Times were changing, in my view not musically for the better, but that’s just my opinion today (just remember, it’s my blog). Somewhere in the attic are some Lee Ritenour albums, along with Bob James and David Sanborn, that GRP sound, sounding more dated than recordings made twenty years previously, though I must have liked it at the time.
Often characterized as a Parker disciple, but which bop altoist isn’t? Every critic’s first words to paper, everyone was influenced by Bird, how could they not be? Parker was the towering figure, so listen only to Parker? It’s a distraction from listening to the distinctive voices of those that followed. Criss is a distinctive player, a bluesy stylist with lightening-fast fluidity and drive more in the manner of Phil Woods. He is a joy to hear.
The selection “Wee” is an old fast-tempo BeBop tune from a Charlie Parker recording Wee (Allen’s Alley) – which is pure bebop virtuosity. It’s an astonishing if slightly imperfect performance but one which fulfils my need for speed. Conoisseurs of comparisons might want to pit Criss against the master, Wee as recorded at the famous Parker-Powell-Gillespie-Mingus-Roach Live at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada 1953
Criss often recorded popular show tunes and ballads, and a couple of times I passed on his 1956 album “Criss Plays Cole Porter” for fear of Karaoke-jazz – “over-familiarity” with the tunes: Night and Day, Anything goes, Just One of Those Things…. one Cole Porter tune maybe, but not all. His mid/late ’60s Prestige albums are nevertheless a solid showcase for his talent and worth seeking out.
Vinyl: PRT 7526 green label Fantasy VAN GELDER stamp
Vintage reissue of Prestige PRST 7526 (1967) left. An example of “good Fantasy” (circa 1972-3) These very early ’70s Prestige are often well worth a listen, notably those pressed with Van Gelder mastered legacy metal. Within a short space of time, Fantasy engineers would remaster everthing. It always pays to check the runout.
The cover of Portrait of Sonny Criss unfortunately ranks high in the LJC Most Unsuitable Knitwear on an Album Cover Awards. These are some of other contenders (click if you dare)
Haircut and trouser cuffs seem to manage to reinvent themselves as retro fashion, but nothing dates so much as knitwear. Perhaps it is because knitwear was often a gift from an older but doting family relative with knitting skills. Childhood Christmas, you would examine carefully all the festively-wrapped presents in your name under the Christmas tree: heavy flat box (Meccano set!) smelly (bath things, ugh), envelope (money!, hopefully) but that big bulky but light soft package set alarm bells ringing: jumper alert!
More Sonny Criss blogged previously, the very excellent Prestige 1966 title This is Criss (Prestige 7511) including show tune from Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset. Maybe I was too hasty about that Cole Porter album.
Readers ask, LJC answers: Bonus Track!
God Bless The Child
I’m feeling generous, hang the bandwith, 700th post celebration,