Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Paris Blues

Posted By on Wed, Dec 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM

This is a previously unreleased concert by the classic Horace Silver quintet — Silver, piano; Junior Cook, tenor sax; Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Gene Taylor, bass; and Detroit legend Roy Brooks on drums — recorded in October 1962 at the Olympia Theater in Paris. Without pretending that it’s as stupendous as any of the Blue Note sides Silver released between ’53 and ’68, it’s still an event, not only because it’s “new,” but because “live” Silver is fairly rare.

The reason this was the best of the many Silver combos has to do with the way the modest virtues of the horn players served the pianist’s compositional intentions. Both Cook and Mitchell were conservative players, more interested in elucidating Silver’s rhythmic drive than in pushing boundaries, fluid players who knew how to turn the heat up during each successive chorus. In contrast to the flowing horns, Silver’s playing was percussive and often disjointed — his solos jump from idea to idea, a series of riffs, blues and gospel clichés (some of which he invented), interpolations from other songs, all demarcated by sharp-edged accents from his left hand, a signature sound which, as the ’50s progressed, evolved into a unique combination of a grunt and a bark. He was like the Henny Youngman of jazz, specializing in one-liners delivered with impeccable timing. He was both mainstream and weird; his blues fecundity had universal appeal just as his concept of an improvised solo as a series of disruptions was archly modern. He was listener-friendly without being banal.

All that’s on display here on five songs ranging from 10 to 16 minutes long (approximately twice as long as the average Silver studio cut). On the negative side, the group sounds more relaxed and less in-your-face than they did on the Blue Note live Doin’ the Thing session recorded two years earlier at the Village Gate, possibly the result of playing a larger venue — the excitement is less, as they say, palpable. On the plus side, there are two long versions of songs from the then-recent The Tokyo Blues, uncharacteristically modal-flavored pieces which inspire the horn players to play a bit more melodically and which give Brooks an impressive mood-setting role. Those two cuts are reason enough for Silver fans to pick this up, although Silver fans also know that the thing about Silver is that it’s all good.

E-mail Richard C. Walls at letters@metrotimes.com.

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