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Reviewers: Glyn Pursglove, Jonathan Woolf

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Benny Golson

Four Classic Albums

AVID JAZZ AMSC1310

[78:32 + 73:24]

 

 

 

CD1
The Modern Touch
1. Out Of The Past (Golson) 6:26
2. Reunion (Gigi Gryce) 7:20
3. Venetian Breeze (Golson) 5:42
4. Hymn To The Orient (Gryce) 4:13
5. Namely You (De Paul, Mercer) 4:47
6. Blues On Down (Golson) 11:49

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), J.J. Johnson (trombone),

Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) Max Roach (drums)

Rec. NYC, December 19 & 23, 1957
Benny Golson’s New York Scene
7. Something In B Flat (Ray Bryant) 6:04
8. Whisper Not (Golson) 6:00*
9. Step Lightly (Golson) 6:55
10. Just By Myself (Golson) 4:12*
11. Blues It (Golson) 6:52
12. You’re Mine You (Heyman, Green) 4:22**
13. Capri (Gryce) 3:59*

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Art FGarmer (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano)

Paul Chambers (bass), Charlie Persip (drums)

*add Gigi Gryce (alto sax), Sahib Shihab (baritone sax), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone)

Julius Watkins (French horn)

**Golson, Kelly, Chambers, Persip only.

Rec. NYC, October 14 & 17, 1957


CD2
The Other Side of Benny Golson
1. Strut Time (Golson) 6:06
2. Jubilation (Junior Mance) 6:24
3. Symptoms (Fuller) 6:05
4. Are You Real? (Golson) 5:40
5. Cry A Blue Tear (Golson) 5:24
6. This Night (Richard Evans) 7:54

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Barry Harris (piano),

Jymie Merritt (bass), ‘Philly’ Joe Jones (drums)

Rec. NYC, November 12, 1958

Benny Golson And The Philadelphians
7. You’re Not The Kind (Gryce) 4:21
8. Blues On My Mind (Golson) 7:31
9. Stablemates (Golson) 5:48
10. Thursday’s Theme (Golson) 7:39
11. Afternoon In Paris (John Lewis) 6:54
12. Calgary (Bryant) 3:39

Benny Golson (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Ray Bryant (piano),

Percy Heath (bass), ‘Philly’ Joe Jones (drums)

Rec. NYC, November 17, 1958

One is tempted to think of Benny Golson as a figure from the past. But at 89 or so he is still playing – indeed he’s playing a number of concerts in Spain, France and Italy this [2018] summer. But, of course, he does have a very distinguished jazz past – something approaching 70 years in length! – having worked with bands led by the likes of Tadd Dameron, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and others, and having been a youthful musical sparring partner of John Coltrane’s, when the two were growing up in Philadelphia. The other temptation, where Golson is concerned, is to think of him primarily in terms of his work as a composer and arranger, rather than as an instrumentalist. Certainly, tunes of his such as ‘I Remember Clifford’, ‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Whisper Not’ have had vibrant lives independent of Golson himself, becoming jazz standards played and recorded by numerous other musicians. ‘Tribute’ albums of his compositions have begun to appear such as the 2017 recording by Vinnie Sperrazza, Jacob Sacks and Masa Kamaguchi, Play Benny Golson (Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT-555), which is made up of 10 Golson compositions. In the sad way of things there will inevitably be more such albums when Golson is no longer with us.

This 2-CD reissue set of four albums recorded in 1957 and 1958 serves as a reminder of Golson in his early prime. Each of the four albums contains some of Golson’s originals, and the ‘cast list’ of musicians is impressive. The second of the ‘temptations’ outlined in my opening paragraph above – to pay too much attention to Golson’s skills as a composer/arranger and too little to his skills as a player – obviously has a long history. In the original sleeve-note to The Modern Touch, Orrin Keepnews writes “Emphasis on Benny’s writing skills has until now somewhat submerged his playing talents”.

Perhaps The Modern Scene isn’t the very best place to start in coming to an appreciation of Golson the tenor saxophonist. I have always found this album a little disappointing, rather less exciting than its stellar line-up suggests it could be. There’s an air of general restraint, of decorum conquering passion. The ‘language’ of the music is hard bop, but the real spirit of that style is largely missing. Perhaps it was just one of those days … Still, there are plenty of moments to enjoy, in solos by Golson (especially on ‘Reunion’ and ‘Venetian Breeze’) and Dorham (notably on ‘Blues on Down’), while Wynton Kelly’s work is everywhere bright and full of bounce (try ‘Out of the Past’). The work of the rhythm section is exemplary throughout. What of Golson the writer? ‘Out of the Past’ is a very attractive theme, and the arrangements are subtle without being unduly complex – the brass sounds of Dorham and Johnson are used to particularly good effect (listen to the opening bars of ‘Hymn to the Orient’).

That New York Scene (which was actually Golson’s first recording as a leader) is a more satisfying album is in part because of its variety of instrumentation – one track is by a quartet (of Golson, Kelly, Chambers and Persip), three tracks are by a quintet (with the addition of Art Farmer) and three by an nonet (with the further addition of the saxes of Gigi Gryce and Sahib Shihab, the trombone of Jimmy Cleveland and the French horn of Julius Watkins). The musical compatibility of Golson and Farmer is clear and it is no surprise that they should later (1959-62) have become co-leaders of the Jazztet (a group revived by the two of them in the 1980s).

New York Scene contains the first recording of Golson’s beautiful ‘Whisper Not’. In his sleeve note Nat Hentoff quotes Golson as saying that this “was one of the few melodies … that came to me quickly … I was in tune with everything the day I wrote it, and it was done in half an hour”. Quickly written or not, ‘Whisper Not’ has endured as a jazz standard (later recorded by Lee Morgan, Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, Stan Getz and many, many more). Indeed, there isn’t a ‘dud’ track on the album – the playing of Golson and Farmer is at a consistently high level, and the arrangements are a model of subtle beauty.

The Other Side is a more ‘direct’ and straightforward album, in which the arrangements are subservient to the soloists. There is more room for soloists to stretch out, and since no-one is tempted to outstay their welcome, the result – full of invention – is decidedly pleasant. Golson shows his ‘chops’ as a soloist, at some moments seeming to hark back to earlier models like Don Byas, at others showing one that he has also listened to later masters like Sonny Rollins. Fuller and Harris (to my ears/mind one of the most rewarding modern pianists) make interesting contributions and Harris, Merritt and Jones fit together very persuasively in the rhythm section. A richly enjoyable album.

Benny Golson and the Philadelphians puts Golson at the head of a top-class group of musicians who all grew up, musically, in the same city. Lee Morgan (with whom Golson had worked, c. 1958-9 in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers) is on particularly good form. Ray Bryant ensures that much of the music is very much soaked in the blues, while Philly Joe Jones provides an insistent stimulus to the soloists. Golson himself, unless it is a product of the recorded sound, seems to have a bigger sound than usual here. Where The Modern Touch seemed like a highly competent imitation of hard bop, Benny Golson and the Philadelphians is very definitely the real thing.

Glyn Pursglove

 


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