LP Numbers: Blue Note 1570 and 1576
Sonny Clark was Blue Note's house pianist in
the late fifties. These two hard bop LP's are among Sonny's first recordings
as leader and were originally issued in 1957 on his return from an extended
stay on the west coast. Sonny leads a small band on each album but the only
common link is Sonny on piano and Curtis Fuller on trombone. Dial S for
Sonny features Art Farmer on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor sax, Wilbur
Ware on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. Sonny's Crib features an even
more impressive lineup including Donald Byrd on trumpet, John Coltrane on
tenor sax, the young Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums.
Classic Records has restored these records to the catalog on high quality 200 gram Quiex Super Vinyl Profile. They are transferred from the original mono master tapes and cut on Classic Records' all tube cutting system by Bernie Grundman. The pressings are uniformly excellent and the sound is clear in the familiar Rudy Van Gelder tradition. The percussion is closely recorded and the piano does not show much variety of tone, but the balance between the instruments is good. Despite a certain lack of presence, there is plenty of warmth and detail to enjoy.
Sonny plays with great freedom of time and form, while never losing the line of the song. On these recordings I much prefer his solos to his work in accompaniment of the other gifted musicians. He shows a lot of creativity in his blues-infused playing with an economy of notes that makes his music making most effective. Nat King Cole did this better than anyone, and I suspect he may have been a source of inspiration for this young pianist.
Dial S For Sonny is the more accessible album, and the title track shows Sonny at his unpredictable best. Hank Mobley matches his style perfectly in this upbeat number. "It Could Happen" To You is a slow brooding ballad that comes across less successfully despite a fine solo from Mobley, ably assisted by soft brushwork from Hayes. "Sonny's Mood" is a showcase for Art Farmer who plays in a wide ranging yet relaxed manner. Mobley develops Farmer's ideas further, with superb support once again from Hayes, who never draws attention to his own playing.
Sonny introduces the up-tempo "Shoutin' On A Riff" and is on top form here. Infectious rhythms abound, and the trumpet, trombone and sax all take lively turns, everyone clearly having a great time. Art Farmer's high-energy solo merits special mention.
"Love Walked In" starts with a Sonny Clark solo with Ware and Hayes providing excellent support. Sonny really knows how to present a song. There is so much going on without any hint of showing off. It's clear we have a major talent here.
The second album Sonny's Crib features John Coltrane but his style seems a touch out of sync at times with the melodic Clark. The most effective performances come from the rhythm section. Art Taylor uses the lightest of touches to propel the music along and Paul Chambers is great in support and sensational in his rare solos. Donald Byrd is in flamboyant form and seems quite attuned to Sonny's style, while Curtis Fuller plays with more invention and a greater sense of ease than on the first album. Sonny shows an even greater freedom and simplicity on this album.
On the first track With "A Song In My Heart" Donald Byrd's
extrovert and complex playing is matched by Trane's exuberance. Best of all
is the closing sequence where each soloist takes a quick run at the theme in
turn which Sonny then caps with a flourish.
Following a brief statement of the theme by Sonny, Kurt Weill's "Speak
Low" highlights a bluesy solo from Trane as a centerpiece
bookended by latin-influenced unison playing from the combo. "Come Rain"
Or Come Shine brings out the best in Curtis Fuller's trombone in his
opening solo. For a rather low-key tune, Sonny then finds a great deal of
interest and the rhythm section helps him to maintain the long line. Towards
the end of this track, we move unexpectedly into the world of Gershwin's
"Bess, You Is My Woman Now."
The best is yet to come. The extended title track "Sonny's Crib"
is a blues number that starts with the horns playing together. Suddenly
Trane takes off in all sorts of directions. Byrd is up next and elicits
excellent backing from Chambers and Taylor, who soon break into double time
to urge him on. Sonny's contribution here shows a mastery over timing that
few others can match. Finally Paul Chambers treats us to a fine bass solo
with very nimble pizzicato, simply a joy. "News for Lulu" (Sonny's
dog) rounds out the album. Sonny's solo is arresting and he is totally
inside this minor key number. Byrd feeds off Sonny's ideas and plays most
imaginatively. Coltrane is also energized here and Fuller is in fine form
but Chambers steals the show in a quiet way with his short free ranging solo
that mirrors Sonny's ideas perfectly.
These are highly enjoyable sessions from the late fifties, a golden age
of modern jazz. Set the lights down low, turn up the volume and let this
music take you on a sweet ride. Recommended
Dial S For Sonny