New Thing selection: Elephant’s Walk
Blue Thing selection: Straight Ice
Ted Curson (trumpet) Bill Barron (tenor saxophone) Georges Arvanitas (piano) Herb Bushler (bass) Dick Berk (drums) recorded NYC, March 25 &29, 1965, engineer Tom Dowd.
Recording both as sideman and leader, Curson moved fluidly between the inside and outside, one foot in the soulful postbop, the other in the avant-leaning new-thing. Notable early outings included with Cecil Taylor (Love For Sale) and Archie Shepp (Fire Music), but Curson’s most visible appearance was with Mingus, in the ranks of Eric Dolphy and Booker Ervin (Mingus at Antibes, Dolphy/Candid sessions, Charles Mingus Presents, Reincarnation Of A Love Bird).
Curson’s NYT Obituary notes “Mr. Curson does some of his most celebrated work on Mingus at Antibes, executing tight, melodic pirouettes against the urgent delirium of “Better Git Hit in Your Soul.” (Now that’s what I call writing!) It brought Curson a “New Star” award at Monterey.
Five years in quartet or quintet with Coltrane-stylist Bill Barron, Curson penned and recorded many titles, including the landmark tribute “Tears for Dolphy” in 1964. Likened to Woody Shaw, his musical compositions often resemble a continuation of the Mingus oeuvre without Mingus. Memorable Curson compositions include Reava’s Waltz, Snake Johnson, Quicksand, Song Of The Lonely One [aka Ode To Booker Ervin] and the impenetrably-titled Dwackdi Mum Fudalik.
Curson spent the late ’60s and early ’70s in Europe, recording in Paris, Helsinki, Prague, Amsterdam, Stockholm, evolving briefly into a scat singer. Moving between the US and Europe, he continued to perform over several further decades, before departing for another place aged 77, November 4, 2012.
Curson’s tone has been described by excellent jazz writer Gary Giddins as simultaneously “bright and plaintive, with short charging phrases, rhythmic fillips and circuitous variations that soar over turnbacks and land with a kick”.
New Thing Blue Thing fully lives up to its title, one side New, the other Blue. Jazz Times summed it up as follows:
Curson’s soaring lines and brilliant trumpet sound are well-matched by Barron, who was at the top of his form on this date. Neither was really an avant-gardist by 1965 standards, but both were interesting modern voices whose best work came when they were pushing the limits”
The Blue selection Straight Ice is more than “interesting”, it is a driving forceful piece of soul-jazz, with Barron’s cauterwaling squawks and throaty honks adding quirky spice to an otherwise mainstream blues march. All the tracks are winners, and it is a rare album that holds your attention, sounds first class, and has you seeking out more of both Curson and Barron’s recorded works.
Vinyl: Atlantic 1441 US plum orange black fan mono label, hand-etched “M” on both sides, and “AT”,
Among the last issues of mono at Atlantic, before the eponymous blue-green stereo label swept all before it. These late Atlantic mono issues include some great sounding records, in my view preferable to their stereo equivalents, though with later Atlantic titles you have little choice.
The New and Blue Thing is an exemplar of Atlantic Tom Dowd’s solid engineering, plump room-filling mono, well suited to Curson’s rich tonal palette, Bill Barron’s gritty edgy tenor and George Arvanites “Pearson-esque” supporting flow
On the whole, the plum/orange label titles are good news, very punchy and bright, the exception being some Elvin Jones Atlantic titles. By the mid-’60s Jones had mutated into a centre-stage power drummer, a continuous raucous din with smashing cymbals, overloaded with reverb, lacking any sense of musical proportionality, and as leader, lacking an off switch. Which is a shame given his title’s sidemen included the still mighty Hank Mobley -hear Hank on “H.M. on F.M.”, Atlantic 1485 Midnight Walk
This record turned up out of the blue in the closing minutes of an ebay auction. The name Ted Curson wasn’t on my search list, I hadn’t name-checked his discography, nor linked his name to Mingus and others, and Bill Barron wasn’t in my list either. Ebay somehow check your search and purchase history and highlight any records whose auction is just coming to a close that might interest you . The Curson auction was ticking down its closing minutes, and impulse kicked in, egged on by another bidder with a sensible bid profile, who seemed determined to lay claim to it. I figured, if he wants it, then I want it more.
It sometimes happens that you follow the herd, on the basis they know something you don’t. I recall being a visitor to Cannes at the time of the Film Festival, generally taking in the scene, when a stampede of papparrazi burst passed me, shouting wildly “Johnny! Johnny!!” Eh, Johnny who? I scooped up my camera and joined the stampede, not knowing where the hell I was going, but with an acute fear of missing out. As it happens, at the edge of the port of Cannes, Johnny Depp was passing briefly from a boat tender to a waterside private dinner party. I fired off a burst of pictures from above my head, and came away the proud owner of one blurred picture of the side of Johnny Depp’s fedora.
Save you asking, judge for yourself, no, it wasn’t really worth it.
But the Ted Curson LP – definitely.
Icing on the cake, I rediscovered I had a Japanese press of Curson’s Tears For Dolphy, not played in some time. Fishing it out, I discovered a small bonus. Can you spot it? Check the label.
I’ll give you a clue:
Trio Japan – Test Pressing. How about that? But isn’t the last pictogram a little different from the usual stack of boxes? Any native Japanese speakers throw any light on this?