Undervalued Artists, an occasional LJC series: Richie Cole, alto saxophone.
Titans of the alto: Parker, Pepper, Mclean, Woods, Donaldson, Dolphy, many more, no shortage of bop heros, but for a brief moment give some space to youngsters, Richie Cole – boisterous, joyous, exuberant, passionate, who swings ferociously.
I had overlooked Richie, another player who arrived on the scene just as many were leaving, not unlike Ricky Ford. A world-weary “it’s all been done before” assumption will deprive you of some great playing and listening pleasure.
Cole’s solid discography of over fifty albums is crowned by his best work on vinyl on Muse, so cheap as chips. And this one is a Van Gelder hidden gem.
How many notes can Richie fit into one measure without his alto catching fire? Gato’s great film score at breakneck pace given new life. At the time I thought this film was a product-placement opportunity for butter, but hearing it today Gato’s soundtrack gives it more relevance and excitement. Nah nah na naa, nah nah nah nah nanah na nana naa. It makes you want to jump on a Vespa and circle the Arc de Triumph. Just grab Richie’s stratospheric take off following the heads. Absolute joy!
Selection 2: Remember Your Day Off (Richie Cole)
A familiar-tune latin swinger that showcases snappy percussion and conga-work, and an easy happy mood. With so much dreadfulness in the news headlines over recent days, I needed a shot of positivity. This is a shot in the arm.
Richie Cole (alto saxophone), Harold Mabern (piano), Steve Gilmour/ Rick Laird (bass), Vic Juris (guitar), Eddie Gladden (drums), Dominic Johnson (congas), Ray Mantilla (percussion), Eddie Jefferson (vocals two tracks) recorded Englewood Cliffs May 5, 1975 & November 16, 1975
Artist testimonial: December 2, 1978, St Petersburg Independent, real time review.
Why plagiarise internet-based All-Music reviews or Wiki when you can source original writing at the time? The writing is more wordy than the modern soundbite or on-line journalism, but it is full of period nuance, detail that doesn’t necessarily go anywhere, but puts you in context of the world this was happening in, it’s a time machine, climb in:
Cole is alive and well when I last looked, five minutes ago, resides in Pennsylvania, has his own website, where he over the years he seems to wear a variety of different hats. I’ve never been a hat person, but I have noticed it is a feature of some people’s wardrobe. What is it makes a man wear hats? I noticed Phil Woods had the same penchant for headgear. Me, rarely. Is it the hair? Or lack of?
Cole’s trademark is irrepressible enthusiasm, unabated enthusiasm, he lives to play, and play he does, the instrument organically fused to his body, flying over the entire register. Sly quotations are slipped in en route, and just when you think he is going flat out, he drops a cog and accelerates again, overtaking himself on the inside.
McLean is more hard-edged and far out, Dolphy more saturnine, Konitz more intellectual, Sonny Stitt and Lou Donaldson more bluesy, Sonny Criss and Art Pepper more melodic, there are a lot of damn ways to play this instrument, but late in the field, Cole has pretty well navigated around all these obvious stylistic mannerisms to find his own voice.
It is unashamedly bopish, happy music, post-post-bop, continuity-bop. Most important, he avoids the David Sanborn/ Kenny G fusion smooth yakkity sax style, guys forever straining orgasma-tronically at the upper register, which has me reaching for the eject button. I did spell that right didn’t I, eject?
Eddie Jefferson’s vocals are not personally my thing, nor Blue Note’s current vocaliser Gregory Porter, but for the sake of the other material its tolerable, and eventually I might warm to it.
Only slowly taking to jazz guitar, a soupcon of Wes Montgomery, of course Grant Green, an aversion to the histrionics of McLaughlin (whose concert performance I walked out of the other year, self-important and boring) Vic Juris is a name familiar but I can’t put an album too. He adds an interesting diversion to Cole’s line up, which might otherwise be non-stop alto. I should listen to more jazz guitar, the contribution here is supportive of the musical enterprise.
Vinyl: Muse MR 5155 – 122 gram vinyl,
Recorded at Englewood Cliffs and mastered by Van Gelder, manufactured by PRC, Richmond, Indiana. PRC changed hands many times over three decades, including ownership by Decca/Brunswick, Mercury and Philips, and its etching is frequently found on Muse. Any Muse engineered by Van Gelder is especially worth looking out for.
For the price of one vintage Blue Note you can pick up twenty or more Muse records. Some of them are a bit hit and miss, but with careful selection, so far more hits than misses, and a few have been great discoveries. Price is not a barrier to entry, and if you don’t like one, they make great retro place-mats for the dinner table.
Having sought to write the bible of Blue Note, I do despair of its collector momentum, while there are so many other musical gems to be discovered. I just picked up a Ritchie Cole/ King Records Tokyo recording that offered a terrific evening-in, Tokyo Madness, huge fun for exactly £8. I would encourage everyone to experiment, and extend their musical palette. Richie Cole is an exciting player, worthy of a listen. Any others? Any Cole albums? What about the ’90s Alto Madness Orchestra?