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Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Alto Madness

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 1999 at 12:00 AM

In the late ‘50s, when young Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was a blazing star in the jazz firmament — as sax-sidekick to John Coltrane in the Miles Davis Sextet — he also authored an occasional article for the seminal Jazz Review. Cannon’s unparalleled work on alto — combining a sense of soul as vital natural resource with some of the most elegant phrasing since Johnny Hodges — gave him automatic cred with readers. His observations were an insider’s, but they revealed a generous, nonpartisan nature. Like the time, in an interview, he listed off the names of his alto sax contemporaries — Lee Konitz, Jackie McLean and Phil Woods — as players who had important contributions to make.

Now here are two collections with 44 years of separation: a two-CD compilation of Cannonball and brother (cornetist) Nat’s 1955 recordings for Savoy, and the latest biscuit from ‘50s alto radical Lee Konitz, a set recorded in 1997. It’s heartwarming and instructive to hear them back to back.

The Adderleys, invading the Apple from Florida, cut some hellaciously delectable sides that June-July in Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, N.J., studio. Pouring on the Southern blues seasoning (just enough to make the sauce boil over), they cooked and lazed through a repertoire of originals and ballads that, among other things, got the attention of prime movers such as Miles. Absolutely essential listening are Cannon and Nat’s "Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya" (a stroll down home, with great solo work from Horace Silverpiano and both of Mrs. Adderley’s boys), and the funk-a-delic "Spontaneous Combustion." Cannon’s amazing, laid-back though arpeggio-inflected longing on the slow standards, "Willow Weep for Me" and "Flamingo," and Nat’s assured brass fantasies on "Caribbean Cutie" and "We’ll Be Together Again" are just some of the brilliant concentrate that this twofer has to offer.

Lee Konitz, once of the liquid-mercury tone and a cohort in pianist Lennie Tristano’s ‘50s avant-garde, has taken himself down a survivor’s path to a more meditative present. Accompanied by relative newcomer Brad Mehldau on piano and veteran fellow-traveler Charlie Haden on bass, Konitz floats through a dreamy suite of two originals and three classics ("Everything Happens to Me," "What’s New" and "Body and Soul"), recorded live at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, California. The backup is impeccable and the ambience just gets jostled out of reverie by Haden’s thick pizzicato. But Konitz has the blue sound of the ages in his horn and these guys make the set sound like a lovely, private jam in somebody’s back room. All in all, a long way from 1955.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at


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