Saturday, February 16, 2019

Reclamation project: The Adderley Brothers in their heyday, "Swingin' in Seattle"

Northwest passage: CD cover of Adderley gig
One of the exciting historic jazz releases of 2019 so far has been a selection of pieces from four nights of two gigs Cannonball Adderley and his quintet played for radio broadcast at Seattle's Penthouse in 1966 and 1967 (Reel to Real Recordings).

It was the era of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," the infectious groove work of Adderley's pianist, young Joe Zawinul, that was to lift the alto saxophonist into a high plane of popularity that in some ways obscured the gifts he was to bring to the alto saxophone — separating that instrument finally from its modern-jazz bondage to Charlie Parker.

"Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" is mercifully absent from this disc, but Zawinul is on hand, lending grit and lyricism all his own to band. Of course, the front line enjoys the partnership of Cannonball and his brother, cornetist Nat.  Filling out the band is Victor Gaskin, bass, and Roy McCurdy, drums.

Co-producers Zev Feldman and Cory Weeds have preserved the folksy, flavorful stage commentary by the leader, which helps communicate the intimate club feel. But the musical rewards alone are sufficient: Nat and Cannonball are tightly coordinated partners as the tunes are enunciated. There's always a piquant contrast in their soloing: Nat, despite some lower-register growls and a gift for shooting aloft unexpected flares, is generally understated. His muted tone is exquisite, and his solos (on "The Girl Next Door," for example) make a firm impression, but in a more insinuating manner than his brother's.  Cannon inevitably has the band's firm purchase on sheer exuberance.

It's fun to hear Zawinul,  soon to become hugely influential as the co-founder of Weather Report, lay out some signature improvisations. His accompanying is first-rate, on a level with Herbie Hancock's of the same era, and unfettered by cliches. Gaskin is well-recorded, and always makes the group's harmonic foundation indelible. McCurdy displays consistent drive, but now and then his ceaseless accenting habit calls too much attention to itself.

"The Sticks" is a Cannonball original that shapes the direction the Adderleys were soon to go in as they gathered  a mass audience for their version of downhome hard bop.  For melodic charm, there's nothing much better on the disc than "The Morning of the Carnival," a melody from the Brazil-centered film "Black Orpheus."  The saxophonist plays with more vibrato than usual, but avoids the sentimentality that weighs down the showcase he gives himself on Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere."

His "Carnival" solo reaches to the fierce edges of the melody; when it occurs to him to paraphrase "Yankee Doodle," of all things, he lifts the piece to a shout of hemispheric solidarity.

"Swingin' in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse (1966-67)" ends with a bop-inspired crowd-pleaser, "Hippodelphia." It's the sort of torrential long-form performance would soon dilute the Adderley legacy, perhaps, but a recording like this helps establish how much substance there was to his artistry.

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