How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Consider how fate portions what it takes and what it gives. Cannonball Adderley's death by stroke in August 1975 robbed music of one of the most distinctive, dynamic and delightful sounds ever known to jazz. But the big man built a considerable and hugely popular musical catalog over three decades and, on the very precipice of his own mortality, reflected upon it anew.
Phenix - from the Egyptian myth of the bird that rises from the flames anew - finds Adderley surveying many of his best known songs after an ambitious series of artistic experiments and the vantage point of electronic delivery. The overall effect is like visiting a cozy club, hearing a favored player dispense the music you most want to hear, with a group that sounds perfectly compatible to it all.
Adderley sounds superb throughout, working with two distinct, yet familiar sextets. The first group features players from a variety of Adderleys past: George Duke, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. The other similar and equally stimulating group features Mike Wolff, Walter Booker and Roy McCurdy. Impressing on all 12 cuts are the always joyous and too consistently underrated brother Nat on coronet and percussionist Airto, who's more pleasingly subtle here than usual. The material is rearranged, only slightly and refreshingly simply, to allow the keyboards to set a cushion of mood firing the horn players.
You might figure the fire would be gone, given how often these guys must have had to cover this program. If so, there's no evidence of it here. Phenix offers up the bird and the fire he ascends from. Cannonball gets space to express the range of textures of his supple alto, as it glides effortlessly through the soulful changes. He's even offers a mellifluous fire on soprano too.
Listen to how beautifully - and godlike - Cannon solos on "Sack o Woe" (the same melodic brilliance that continues to dazzle on 1958's "Alison's Uncle") and how magically he and brother Nat bodily lift the "Walk Tall/Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" medley. Also included is Cannon's resonant and romantic straight jazz sensibility - fully in tact on ""Hi-Fly, "The Sidewalks of New York" and "Stars Fell On Alabama." Duke's arsenal of synthesized solos (on moog, clavinet, etc.) is also surprisingly engaging, most notably on "Work Song," "Sack o Woe," "Jive Samba." And, for "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," bravo Mike Wolff.
There is no perfect anthology for a great artist. Phenix, pastiche though it may be, fills a far more necessary void than a merely contrived hits collection could. Cannonball benefited from a book abundant with much that was worthwhile. Who better to assemble such a tribute than the artist himself? Two decades later, the void left by Cannonball's loss remains large. But Phenix does much to fill a little of the emptiness. Thank you, Cannonball Adderley.
Songs:Hi-Fly; Work Song; Sack O'Woe; Jive Samba; This here; The Sidewalks of New York; Hamba Nami; Domination; 74 Miles Away; 74 Miles Away; Country Preacher; Stars Fell On Alabama; Walk Tall/Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
Players:Julian "Cannonball" Adderley: soprano sax, alto sax; Nat Adderley: cornet; George Duke: keyboards, synthesizers; Mike Wolff: keyboards; Sam Jones: bass; Walter Booker: bass and electric bass; Louis Hayes, Roy McCurdy: drums; Airto Moreira: percussion, conga drums.