Friday, March 17, 2006

The Blues And The Abstract Truth

The Blues And The Abstract Truth
impulse! A-5

Recorded 1961

1. Stolen Moments
2. Hoe-Down
3. Cascades
4. Yearnin'
5. Butch and Butch
6. Teenies' Blues


OLIVER NELSON; tenor sax, alto sax
ERIC DOLPHY; alto sax, flute
GEORGE BARROW; baritone sax

Noted arranger/composer Oliver Nelson got together with the cream of contemporary musicians in 1961 to record what was to be his finest album, and a future standard in 'Stolen Moments'. As the title of the album suggests, it's an exploration of the Blues, but not in the traditional format. Whilst there is little on the record that's abstract by later standards, it does push the boundaries of conventional blues harmony out there a little - it's audible in some of the horn voicings used by Nelson in the ensemble passages (respect to George Barrow - he never gets a solo but is integral to the sound of the record).

'Stolen Moments' is the outstanding track on the album. The theme is perhaps one of the most famous in jazz, and it's feel of languid bluesiness makes it a perfect sequel to Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' in terms of advancing jazz harmony a little further. It's not modal though, more like advanced blues. After the famous opening, '...moments' showcases each of the players in turn (with the exception of Barrow). Hubbard is excellent as ever, Dolphy intriguing on flute, and Evans as spare as you would expect. Nelson comes in full of emotion (and almost threatens to play the opening horn line of 'So What' in a subtle acknowledgement of Miles' classic LP), full of the blues, with an achingly beautiful solo that never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

After that, you might expect everything else to pale in comparison, but to Nelson's credit the rest of the album is up to the same high standard. Even 'Hoe-Down' with it's hokey square-dance theme convinces due to the quality of the solo playing, especially (albeit briefly) Haynes, who kicks up a storm for the best part of 4 bars (but then I love my drum solos). 'Yearnin'' is also worth a mention - it does exactly what you'd expect it to, tugging on the heartstrings in the way that only a slow blues can.

I've not said much about Dolphy - his explosive presence adds colour to the date; witness the fireworks of his solo on 'Teenie's Blues', for example, or the highly flexible approach he takes to rhythm and timing on 'Butch and Butch'. We're not quite up to 'Out To Lunch' yet, but you can see where he's going.

I could go on all night about this record, there's just so much to say. If you're looking for more information about Nelson, you could do worse that check out this discography, and wikipedia has a brief biography too. Mostly, though, what you need to do is buy this album. Now.

1 comment:

John M said...

This is indeed a disc that everybody should hear. At a time when a lot of musical standards were being stretched out of shape, this music stretches while still being listenable.

I especially like the contrast between Dolphy's frenetic style and Nelson's cool delivery. It's a great mix.

On Stolen Moments, the best recommendation I can offer is provided by my 14-year-old daughter's friend. After hearing Nelson's simple, aching solo, she said wide-eyed "wow, that's intense". If Nelson can reach a rap-addled teen with a few well-chosen notes, that's something.