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Sonny Stitt: It's Magic (2005)

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Sonny Stitt: It's Magic How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

It isn't, though. Magic, that is. While jazz fans may perennially debate saxophonist Sonny Stitt's status as a bebop innovator (ie, how much of its vocabulary did he learn from Charlie Parker, and how much did he develop independently), no one is in disagreement about his being one of the most over-recorded of jazz players. Stitt recorded for everyone, everywhere, and his discography—and reputation—have suffered accordingly. It's Magic is a hitherto unreleased 1969 Chicago Stitt session with organist Don Patterson and drummer Billy Pierce. It is not the first Stitt album I would recommend to anyone.

Nor is it the fifth. The song selections are the very usual subjects ("Parker's Mood, "On Green Dolphin Street, "Just Friends ) and it's not an ideal backing band. Pierce (not the former Jazz Messenger saxophonist Billy Pierce) isn't a well-known jazz player, and his playing on "On Green Dolphin Street suggests some justification of his obscurity: his time isn't wonderful and he responds awkwardly to transitions in the song. Patterson's comping throughout the CD is merely workmanlike and he isn't sensitive to differences between songs: he just plays as if it's all one tune. A pure licks player, his solos are generic. He is, however, great on the pedals—and it's his pedal work that keeps Pierce honest.

Speaking of licks players, Stitt's the bebop licks player of all time. There's no impression here that he hasn't played the same phrases on these songs many time before. He certainly doesn't seem to be rethinking his approach to them in any way—but that does not mean hearing him rip through the changes on Miles Davis' "Four doesn't make one sit up and take notice. And enjoy: at times Stitt simply transcends the group's limitations (as on the obligatory tenor workout "Body and Soul," where he chooses the Lester Young, not Coleman Hawkins path) and sometimes he and the band gel. Their finest moment together is "Just Friends where Stitt is on, his alto rippling through those high-interval bebop chords—meanwhile Patterson's comping skips a grade and Pierce, well, overachieves.

Less successful is "Parker's Mood. Stitt manages to delight on his alto solo here, despite its almost defiant closeness to Charlie Parker's original recording, but the other two don't seem particularly familiar with the song and turn it into into a rather stock blues—especially after Stitt's solo. When Stitt reemerges after Patterson's solo break with the theme, it's too late: it's not "Parker's Mood anymore. Stitt's own attention seems to wander on "It's Magic and his playing wavers between brief bursts of inspiration and longer, more lifeless passages.

It's Magic isn't a great album and it's by no means essential. But it's got its charms, though. It's a rough-sounding, raw recording with occasionally faltering sound, but that quality gives it a certain immediacy that benefits the variable performance—at times, anyway. Sometimes Stitt's great, sometimes he's not. The band's ability rises and falls. There's no faking it—and that's jazz, not magic.

Track Listing: 1. Four 2. On Green Dolphin Street 3. Parker's Mood 4. How High the Moon 5. Shake Your Head 6. It's Magic 7. Getting Sentimental Over You 8. Just Friends 9. Body and Soul 10. They Can't Take That Away From Me

Personnel: Sonny Stitt: alto and tenor saxophone; Don Patterson: Hammond B-3 organ; Billy Pierce: drums

Record Label: Delmark Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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