NEW! LJC Reissue Corner!
Selection: Minor Meeting (Clark)
James Clay (tenor sax) “Sonny Clarke” (piano) Jimmy Bond (bass) Lawrence Marable (drums) recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA, August 4, 1956, engineer John Kraus, produced by Herb Kimmel
On piano is one Sonny Clarke”. Who’s he? Nominal leader and drummer Lawrence Marable later change his first name to Larence. Apparently name misspelling is a West Coast thing.
Artist of Note: featuring James Clay, tenor and flute (1935–1995).
Who was James Clay? From playing in high school marching bands, tenor Clay’s first commercial break came when he joined bassist Red Mitchell on the album Presenting Red Mitchell. Shortly after, he joined the Jazz Messiahs, a collaboration with Ornette Coleman. Barcelona-based reissue label Fresh Sound picks up the story:
“In the summer of 1956 James Clay was a 20-year-old tenor saxophonist from Dallas, who had been living and playing in Los Angeles since mid-1955. At that time his colleagues were all young and independent experimentalists, completely outside of the flourishing West Coast jazz movement—players like trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Billy Higgins, and altoist Ornette Coleman—and though he said he was not an outside player, he worked easily within the unconventional settings of Coleman’s compositions. Paradoxically, however, his only recordings were straight ahead, not at all in line with Ornette’s controversial music. On them his ideas flow melodically, especially in ballads and mid-tempos. On faster tunes, his blowing statements come from the strong swinging style and hot tone that characterized other Texas tenors such as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, with a hard-bop approach clearly influenced by his idol Sonny Rollins”
Despite his nurturing in The New Thing, Clay once said in an interview “If it calls for it, I can go into it but my preference is straight ahead. You can find just as much in playing that way as outside—believe me.”
He caught the attention of Cannonball Adderley, acting talent scout/A&R for Riverside, then producing the “Cannonball Adderley Presents” series for Riverside. Clay recorded two albums for the series: RLP 12-327 Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces, with David “Fathead” Newman and RLP 12-349 Double Dose of Soul (1961), the first album to be released under Clay’s own name, with Cannonball’s brother, Nat Adderley. Another Riverside connection earned him second billing with Wes Montgomery titles.
From what looked a promising career start, Clay had some further commercial success when in 1962, he began a long on-off relationship with the Ray Charles orchestra, mostly as a section player, solos often going to fellow Texas tenors David Newman and Don Wilkerson, of Blue Note fame. Clay generally passed up career opportunities in favour of family life and returned to the Texas music scene of his roots. Playing mainly in the Dallas area over the following decades ensured he would continue to remain relatively unknown, which is perhaps after all what he wanted .
From promising beginnings, a missing middle career, to a six-year late flourish, Clay restarted recording in the late – 80s: a reprise of his 1960 Riverside album with David Newman, titled Return To The Wide Open Spaces, the others with himself as leader, Cooking at the Continental, and I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart (1991). Here the James Clay story ends, his legacy, that of a twenty year old player on a holy grail $3,000 album, Tenorman
Clay belonged,to that elite club known as the Texas Tenors, David Newman, Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, whose sound Clay described as “raunchy…straight-forward, with lots of emotion and few frills.” On Tenorman, Clay exhibits many elements of his later mature style, a refined lyricism with bluesy swing. Stylistically close to fellow Texan masters and of course Rollins, but a fresh voice of his own, swinging and hard-driving with that characteristic Texas “a moan inside the tone.” (quote Adderley). More than anyone else, he reminds me of our own Tubby Hayes at this time, fast dexterous chops with triplets and back-flips, great, a real pleasure to follow.
Sonny “Misspelled” Clarke is characteristically bubbly on piano, imaginative in solo, solidly rhythmic in comp, backed by crisp and dynamic drumming of Marable and surefooted Jimmy Bond on bass. The musical fare is standards as you would expect of its time, the vocabulary is hard bop, not especially typecast “West Coast” easy listening. This is a very “likeable” album, transports you happily to another time and place, especially if you don’t think too much of the present!
Vinyl: Jazz West JWLP 8 reissue by Fresh Sound, Barcelona (1985) Still 30-year old vintage! Not so modern.
Label of Note: Fresh Sound
Jazz reissue label Fresh Sound was founded in the early 1980s and is still currently run by Jordi Pujol in Barcelona, Spain, . Jordi has a long presence on the music scene:
“I started working with jazz simply through a love for music. I was a jazz record collector and it was the music I grew up with – my father is a fan of Swing Big Bands. At sixteen I started playing trumpet as an aficionado in local jam sessions…
The only objective we have is to reproduce the original sound as closely as possible..
In the 80’s I started recording on reel to reel tapes, later on DAT and now on CDR. ….Before digital systems were available I restored all the records by manual ‘declicking’, one by one from the reel to reel tapes. Some of them had hundreds of clicks. Hours and hours trying to get a clean sound …”
Fresh Sound is no “ordinary” CD to vinyl Scorpio type producer of RINOs – Records In Name Only. However it is not automatically a guarantee of audiophile quality, as I have picked up a few that are frankly bland, though that is how they may have started out. The source for this vinyl issue is obscure, but it does sound extraordinarily fresh and clean, and as a 1985 issue predates a lot of CD/solid state technology. Everyone I’ve played it to looks up, startled, Hey…that sounds “fresh.”..
Why it has a Japanese royalty agency stamp, JASRAC, but is manufactured in Spain, is a mystery but possibly a clue as to its provenance, a tortured licensing agreement, a transfer from something via Japan. Search me, no-one has even asked the question, let alone answered it. But then we are not like most people, we are vinyl people, and we like to know these things, because Vinyl Matters.
I had seen the Fresh Sounds edition of Tenorman many times, but hesitated at so blatant a reissue proposition, thought I’d wait and see if an original turned up. Ha ha. Little did I know of its mythic status, less still did I know what great music and great sound was hidden inside the ’80s reissue cover.
Holy Grail: 1956 deep groove flat edge mono. Isn’t it beautiful? I think so. I’d get excited by just seeing it in the flesh, 1956 injection straight into the veins. I jut know it would sound great. By 1956, there had not been enough progress to make it sound worse.
Holy Cow, Holy Grail price to match, top 25 auctions: $300 – $3,000 range, Looks like fewer than fifty? originals have ever come to auction. We are in Mobley 1568 territory, Flanagan Overseas, Jutta Hipp. Its about scarcity, not about music.
Good music isn’t kept a secret for long: our jazz-loving friends in Japan picked up the scent. The alternative from Japan, where else? : Toshiba-EMI TOJJ 5818 (1993) and more recent 200 gram not Blue Note reissue.
Import specialist Eastwind claim “EMI Japan’s Premium 200-gram Vinyl Reissue Series (right) are pressed in the U.S. with vintage pressing machines in an attempt to replicate the sound of the 1950s. (What, 50’s and no deep groove?) The sound of this Japanese reissue vinyl is fantastic – very natural and authentic. Highly recommended for vinyl aficionados, collectors and fans of West Coast jazz!”
No first hand experience of either above, anyone who has should speak up. I can honestly recommend the Fresh Sound edition, one reissue that is an honourable addition to my collection, wish I’d had it sooner. This from someone who’s fussy.