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James MOODY

 

Four Classic Albums

 

AVID JAZZ AMSC 1261

 

 

 

CD1

Wail, Moody, Wail
1. Wail, Moody, Wail
2. The Golden Touch

3. The Nearness of you
4. Donkey Serenade
5. Moody’s Blue Again
Hi-Fi Party
6. There Will Never Be Another You
7. Hard To Get
8. Disappointed
9. Big Ben

10. Show Eyes

11. Little John
12. And You Called My Name
13 Little Ricky
CD2
Flute ‘N’ The Blues :
1. Flute ‘N’ The Blues
2. Birdland Story
3. It Could Happen To You
4. I Cover the Waterfront
5. Body and Soul

6. Breaking the Blues

7. Parker’s Mood

8. Easy Living

9. Boo’s Tune

10. Richard’s Blues

Moody’s Mood For Love

11.Foolin’ the Blues

12. Plus Eight

13. I’m in the Mood For Love

14. Phil Up.

15. You Go To My Head

16. Billie’s Bounce

17. Stardust

18. Mean To Me

Wail Moody, Wail :

James Moody (as, ts) Dave Burns (tpt) Bill Shepherd (tbn)

Pee Wee Moore (bs) Jimmy Boyd (p) John Latham (b)

Clarence Johnson (d)

Rec Hackensack (NJ) December 12 1955

Hi-Fi Party :

Personal as above, plus Eddie Jefferson (vocal, track 8)

Rec Hackensack (NJ) August 1955

Flute ‘N’ The Blues :

Moody (as, ts, fl) Johnny Coles (tpt) Shepherd (tbn)

Moore (bs) Boyd (p, peck horn) Latham (b) Johnson (d)

Jefferson (vcl, tracks 2, 4 and 7)

Rec Chicago February 1956

Moody’s Mood For Love :

Moody (as, ts, fl) Coles (tpt), Tate Houston (bs)

Jimmy Boyd (p, peck horn) Benny Golson (p, track 11)

Latham (b) Johnson (d) Jefferson (vcl, track 13)

Rec Chicago December 1956 – January 1957.

James Moody, who died in 2010 at the age of 85, was born in Savannah (Georgia). At around the age of 15 or 16 he took up the alto sax and added the tenor soon afterwards. Between 1943 and 1946 he played in a ‘negro band’ in the US. Army Air Corps. When discharged from the army in 1946 he was already sufficiently accomplished to be hired by Dizzy Gillespie (the two men remained firm friends thereafter), working with him in both small group and big-band settings. After a European tour with Gillespie he decided, in 1948, to stay in Europe and made some attractive recordings in both Sweden and France, as well as working with Miles Davis and Max Roach. In 1948 he made his first American recordings (for Blue Note) – as ‘James Moody and the Bop Men’, the personnel including Ernie Henry, Cecil Payne and Art Blakey. Thereafter he worked for many years on the American jazz scene, both as a leader, a soloist and in several reunions with Gillespie (between 1963 and 1968). In the mid 1950’s he added the flute to his repertoire of instruments. In the 1970s, with jazz in America having a difficult time, economically speaking, he earned his living in the orchestra of the Las Vegas Hilton. He subsequently returned to the jazz world, making several tours to Europe during the 1980s. As late as 2007, when the Monterey Jazz Festival, celebrating its 50th anniversary, put together a cross-generational ‘All-Star’ group, the 82 year old Moody more than held his own in the company of much younger figures such as trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Benny Green and singer Nnenna Freelon.

These four albums, reissued by Avid, were recorded between 1955 and 1957, when Moody was establishing himself as a successful soloist and leader. The fact that he was leading a regular working group (generally a septet) is reflected in the considerable continuity of personnel across these four albums. The first two, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, were issued on Prestige; the second two were recorded in Chicago and released by Argo and Chess. What we hear is essentially Moody’s regular band – and it shows. What we miss, however, is Moody’s ebullient stage presence. He was always very much an entertainer – in the tradition of Armstrong and his friend and mentor, Gillespie. In his Guardian obituary of Moody, John Fordham wrote, not only of his prodigious musical talent, but also relished Moody’s “hilariously daft anecdotes, nonsense songs and circumlocutory tales” (to which one might add his quirky vocals). On the one occasion when I saw Moody ‘live’ (in the 1980s), his patter was worthy of a successful stand-up comedian and his music was as sophisticated, inventive and bluesy as one could wish. I wonder if his desire to entertain hasn’t blinded some to Moody’s considerable jazz talent (he was always a ‘serious’ musician if never a ‘solemn’ or pretentious one)? Certainly he seems to have been consistently underrated across most of his long career.

These four albums don’t give us Moody at his absolute best (for that one needs to listen to some of his work with Gillespie in the late forties, or the best of the albums recorded in his second, post-Vegas, flowering such as Moody’s Party, 1995, Young at Heart, 1996 and Mainly Mancini, 1997), but there is plenty here to enjoy and be impressed by. The combination of a thoroughly natural and honest sense of the blues, a sinuous sense of musical line and a sophisticated sense of harmony make for good listening. It has to be said, though, that most of Moody’s sidemen here are not especially exciting or individual; only trumpeters Dave Burns and (more especially) Johnny Coles provide much in the way of valuable soloing.

On the title track of Wail Moody is impressive on both alto and tenor; there’s real subtlety in his work on Quincy Jones’s ‘The Golden Touch’ and some fairly characteristic humour on ‘The Donkey Serenade’. ‘The Nearness of You’ features a lovely ballad reading by Moody (on tenor). Elsewhere there is much vivacious and straightforward swing; as Ira Gitler wrote in the sleeve note to the original LP, this is “music meant to be danced to as well as heard”. One can see why the band often supported R & B singers.

On both Wail and Hi-Fi Party, Moody is joined by two other alumni of the Gillespie big band, Dave Burns and trombonist Bill Shepherd. Burns is heard to advantage on ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and Shepherd gets a brief spot in the limelight on Benny Golson’s ‘Big Ben’, though the main interest of the track lies in Moody’s long and inventive solo. ‘Hard To Get’ features some top-notch ballad playing by Moody on his larger saxophone, while his alto work is striking on ‘And You Called My Name’ (another Golson tune).

The second of these two CDs contains albums recorded soon after Moody had taken up the flute and both demonstrate that he could already put the instrument to rewarding jazz use. The earlier of the two albums advertises the instrument’s presence in its title, Flute ‘n’ The Blues, although there is also plenty of the Moody tenor (as on ‘Body and Soul’) and alto (e.g. ‘Richard’s Blues’) to be heard too. While Dave Burns was a thoroughly competent but rather workmanlike trumpeter, Johnny Coles is a more distinctive and imaginative musician and his playing, on tracks such as ‘The Birdland Story’ and ‘Body and Soul’, is one of the pleasures of this welcome set of reissues Other highlights include Moody’s interpretation (on flute) of ‘Stardust’ and ‘You Go To My Head’, the latter underpinned by the baritone sax of Tate Houston. How far the presence of vocalist Eddie Jefferson on some tracks is to be regarded as a bonus is probably a matter of subjective taste. I must say, I found him more enjoyable in small doses, as here, than I have generally done on albums issued under his own name, where he is heard more extensively.

Committed Moody-philes will probably have these four albums already, in one form or another, but I urge others to investigate them and, if possible, to hear some of Moody’s later recordings too. Time spent listening to Moody (as he liked to be addressed, preferring it to the use of either his first name or ‘Mr. Moody) is never time wasted as far as I am concerned.

Glyn Pursglove

 


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