|THE CLARKE-BOLAND BIG BAND|
by Douglas Payne
Had it not been for the post-war migration of many top American jazz musicians to Europe, it is quite likely that the legendary Clarke-Boland Big Band might never have come into existence. As it happened, when Gigi Campi set up the first big band record date in Cologne on December 13, 1961, (Jazz Is Universal for the Atlantic label), he was able to call upon such distinguished self-exiled jazz stars as Benny Bailey (originally from Cleveland, Ohio), Sahib Shihab (Savannah, Georgia), Jimmy Woode (Boston, Massachusetts) and, of course, Kenny Clarke (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Later editions of the band included Idrees Sulieman (St. Petersburg, Florida), Johnny Griffin (Chicago, lllinois) and Joe Harris (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
In between the much-acclaimed, epic recordings made by the C-BBB big band, there were a number of memorable small group sessions, featuring key sidemen from the big band, which over the years have tended to be forgotten. Happily much of this small group material is finally being made available on CD and this is one of three compilations which will assuredly be heartily welcomed by Clarke-Boland fans the world over.
This 20-track compilation is largely a composite of two sessions by the same sextet - one recorded in the Alten Bahnhof von Rolandseck in Germany on September 25,1965 and the other recorded in Berlin on June 16, 1965.
Apart from offering a vivid confirmation of the impressive instrumental resourcefulness of the musicians featured, this collection also serves to remind us that, as well as being a master bassist, Jimmy Woode is an appealing and sensitive singer with a voice often reminiscent of the late Nat King Cole. He told me: "Back in Boston in the Forties I had a small group in which I played piano and sang. I was the baby of the band - but it was my band. However, the bass player was rather arrogant and aggressive and was always trying to take the band over. So one day I fired him, went out and bought a bass and played it on the gig that very same night. I learned as I went along - just playing the root notes. Then later of course I started really studying the instrument."
Of the six musicians featured here, two are no longer with us. Kenny Clarke, one of the great, innovative musicians who made such a major contribution to the transformation of jazz in the early forties, died in January 1985. His work here is as impeccable as ever - perfect time, sensitive accompaniment and infallible swing. And Sahib Shihab, who changed his name from Edmund Gregory when he became a Muslim in the mid-forties, died in October 1989. Shihab was one of the first bebop musicians to make use of the flute and he rapidly became an acknowledged as a superb soloist on the instrument making effective use of the technique much employed by Roland Kirk of producing vocal effects in unison with the flute - as he does extensively on this album.
Fats Sadi, from Andenne, Belgium, who is featured here on vibraphone, marimba and bongos, worked with Django Reinhardt, Don Byas and Bobby Jaspar in the Fifties and played regularly with various Clarke-Boland outfits throughout the Sixties Francy Boland, an extremely selt-effacing character from Namur in Belgium, is not only one of the most resourceful and creative big band arrangers in jazz - he is also a most inventive and distinctive pianist whose talents have not had the recognition they merit.
Former Dizzy Gillespie sideman Joe Harris, who, like Klook, is from Pittsburgh, moved to Europe in 1956 and, at the time of these recordings was a member of the SFB Big Band in Berlin. As well as being a fine drummer, Harris is also a specialist in latin percussion, playing congas, timbales and timpani.
And Jimmy Woode's credentials scarcely need repeating here. He has played with just about every jazz musician of note and has kept most of them up into the small hours with his bar-room reminiscences.
The predominant rhythm here is latin, as established by the opening track, Luis Bonfais "Ebony Samba" which has a quaint, loping beat, its clip-a-clop-a rhythm bizarrely reminiscent of the gait of a draught horse.
"Tin Tin Deo" by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo and arranger Gil Fuller, was first recorded by Dizzy Gillespie in March 1951. Here Shihab's sprightly flute is featured against rattling percussion and Boland’s chorded work has a distinct Afro-Cuban touch The latin mode continues with Shihab's composition, "Please Don't Leave", a song in cha-cha rhythm which has a pleasing vocal by the composer, even if the intonation here and there 5 somewhat flawed.
Much more assured is Jimmy Woode's reading of the classic Billy Strayhorn ballad, "Lush Life"- an extremely hazardous melody, especially for a singer who is also required te play bass at the same time. Jimmy recalls, "It was something of a challenge playing and singing simultaneously - but I wanted to try it because I hate playbacks. It was quite difficult to keep the beat and handle the complex phrasing of the song and especially after a heavy bar session the night before!". Woode pulls it off very well and it is certainly one of the highlights of the album. In addition to being featured as a vocalist on seven tracks of this album, Jimmy Woode also contributes five compositions, one co-written with Francy Boland and one with Sahib Shihab.
"The Man From Potter's Grossing" is a lively 12-bar blues by Woode which has fine solos by Shihab, Sadi and Boland - note the mischievous way in which Shihab deliberately falls behind the beat in the lead-in to his flute solo, almost as if he were running out of steam which, as his solo testifies, was certainly not the case.
Burt Bacharach's "Wives And Lovers" was a chart hit for Jack Jones back in 1963. This instrumental version has Shihab and Sadi sharing the melody and Sadi trading solo choruses first with Shihab then with Boland.
"Ensadinado" is a Jimmy Woode composition titled by Boland in tribute to Fats Sadi. "The message of the song," says Woode, "is that you should always look on the bright side of life - but I must admit that I had trouble trying to find rhymes for that title!"
Dizzy Gillespie wrote "Lorraine" - dedicated to his wife. An attractive composition in cha-cha time, it features Shihab on flute and Sadi on marimba.
Belgian saxophonist Jack Sels wrote "Love Hungry", a delightful ballad which deserves to be better known. This track is a feature for piano, bass and drums and Boland's work here is most thoughtful and sensitive.
"Balafon" is an up-tempo Francy Boland original written for the French mime artist, Marcel Marceau. The rhythm section really cooks on this track with Kenny Clarke’s cymbal work outstanding. Boland's solo here is notable for its neat, left hand puctuations. On this track and on the following six, Sadi plays bongos.
The popular standard, "Day By Day", written in 1946 by Axel Stordahl, Sammy Cahn and Paul Weston, is given a latin treatment here and brings Jimmy Woode back to the vocal microphone. Says Woode: "This tune was Francy Boland's choice. Actually I sang it on the very first record I ever made - with Nat Pierce, back in 1949, when I was still at school".
Woode follows up with the distinctive "Calypso Blues", written by Nat King Cole and Don George. Cole first recorded it - accompanied only by Jack Costanzo on bongos - back in 1949. It tells the wry and wistful tale of a Trinidadian in New York desperately homesick for the land where everything is so much cheaper (in New York "a dollar buy, a cup of coffee and a ham on rye") and the girls more natural than the artificial, painted beauties of New York. ("With calypso girl, what you see is what you get.").
"Invitation" is imaginatively arranged in cha-cha time by Francy Boland and has some nimble. breathy flute by Shihab and some energetic bongo solo work by Sadi.
Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Insensatez" uses that same, effective, loping beat as is heard on "Ebony Samba" and Leroy Andersonis "Serenata", with its subtle harmonic changes, finds Shihab in explosive form. There follows yet another nod in the direction of Klook’s former boss, Dizzy Gillespie, with the characteristic Dizzy composition, "Con Alma", which has Shihab's mellow flute set against a churning 12/8 rhythm in this stylish Boland arrangement.
Sadi is back on marimba for "Just Give Me Time", another vocal feature for Woode which he co-wrote with Boland. "The hours go too fast…" runs the lyric - and they certainly do, because it seems only yesterday that I was listening to the magical live sounds of the Clarke-Boland Big Band.
Woode's performance of the superb Mel Torme ballad, "Born To Be Blue", reveals his great affection for the song. "It is the perfect combination," he says, "a beautiful melody married to a great lyric. I really love that tune." It is a song of rueful resignation, putting a brave face on the blues.
"Lillemor" - it means "little mother" in Swedish - was written by Sahib Shihab for his then lady friend of the same name and Jimmy Woode wrote the lyric. It is a well-crafted piece in 5/4 time, going into 4/4 for the bridge.
Woode's composition, "Sconsolato" is a haunting theme in A minor with Shihab on flute and Sadi on marimba and it brings to a close a truly fascinating album. This is dynamic music played with vigour, verve and vitality - and it is an enormous pleasure to rediscover it.