Greatest Hits: The Riverside Years

Jul 1, 1998 at 12:00 am
Alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's always impressive virtuosity never obscured the emotional content of his music, his essential and boundless joie de vivre. He was one of the few modern (post-Bird) musicians (pianist Oscar Peterson is another) who possessed an extraordinary improvisational fluidity and yet never seemed to suggest the darker side of introspection. That, and his penchant for the sort of bluesy roots-bop pioneered by pianist Horace Silver, accounts in large part for his immense popularity -- the word "hits" in this compendium's title is not, as would be the case with most jazz musicians, wishful thinking.

Half of the eight cuts here were recorded live in the small jazz clubs of the day (late-'50s, early-'60s), a setting in which Cannonball's personal charm -- listen to his dissertation on the Zen of hip during the intro to "Gemini" to get a measure of that -- and the group's populist music were displayed to best advantage. His audiences were always active participants and half the fun of a smoldering number like "Jive Samba" is digging the way the crowd jumps in to add its two cents to the arrangement. Cannonball's aggressive high spirits worked on his sidemen too -- even the famously moody pianist Bill Evans sounds a little giddy playing on an upbeat version of his "Waltz For Debby" -- and he often brought out the best in musicians who weren't slackers to begin with -- e.g., hear Yusef Lateef's flute solo on "Samba," a masterpiece of funk minimalism, simple, elegant and in your face.

A small quibble: while "This Here," "Work Song," "Sack O' Woe" and "Jive Samba" must be on an album with this title, for the rest there's room to negotiate, and it would have been nice to have included something like Cannon's definitive "Jeanine" rather than Galt MacDermott's "African Waltz," a big-band piece that sounded a little corny even back in the day. Still, this is classic Adderley, which means not only landmark American music but something to make you feel good as well.

Richard C. Walls writes about film and music for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].