Herbie Mann/ Bobby Jaspar: Flute Flight (2002)
Concept albums were all the rage back in the late Fifties, and jazz music was no exception among genres. Popular within this certain niche was the notion of featuring instruments uncommonly featured in lead roles. The result was a flood of records fielded by everything from French horns to accordions to harps. One album cut for the Savoy label featured four of the former instruments in a winsome frontline combination. The modest flute might not seem like such an oddity by today’s standards, but back when this recent reissue was waxed the most lithesome of wind instruments was quite rare, particularly as principle voice in jazz ensembles. This album attempts to do the above-mentioned strategy one better by featuring to accomplished flautist in tandem on the two opening tracks. Joined by the tasteful ivory tickling of Tommy Flanagan and the flexible rhythm team of Puma, Marshall and Donaldson the two leaders tackle a lengthy, if somewhat whimsically titled blues and a faster paced, but equally mellow 24-bar excursion. The easy lope of Marshall’s walking solo framed by Donaldson’s lightly brushed cymbals on the first delivers one of the most sublime sections of the record. Puma’s delicate statement on the second paves a path for each flute in succession, but each chooses a course that seems a shade too laidback.
The album’s second half trades Puma’s plectrum for Costa’s mallets and finds the redoubtable Doug Watkins weighing nimbly in on the double bass. A complaint can easily be lodged in the at times lackadaisical work of the leaders. Rarely does their playing rise above the rote and as a consequence few improvisatory sparks fly from their respective flutes. Jaspar sounds slightly more energized on the tracks where he’s left alone out front, but it’s still a rather tame ride. Fortunately the others in the ensemble pick up part of the slack and make some interesting progress with the remaining solo space. Watkins’ deep oaken throb on the simply titled “Flute Bass Blues” is one solid example. But as concept albums go this one follows the mold rather typically with little to distinguish it other than some solid musicianship from the sidemen.
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Track Listing: Tutti Flutie/ Bo-Do/ Flute Bass Blues/ Flute Bob/ Solacium.
Personnel: Herbie Mann- flute, alto flute; Bobby Jaspar- flute; Tommy Flanagan- piano; Joe Puma- guitar; Eddie Costa- vibes; Wendell Marshall- bass; Doug Watkins- bass; Bobby Donaldson- drums. Recorded: March 21, 1957, Hackensack, NJ.