Pee Wee Russell: Ask Me Now (1965)
Pee Wee Russell enjoyed a significant comeback with the original release of this session. Not content to live in the past, Russell doesn’t gaze in the rearview mirror as far back as we would expect. First off, he has chosen a program of (at the time) modern works by the likes of Coleman, Monk, and Coltrane, instead of the earlier jazz tunes that were his forte. Second, Russell dispenses with a piano and instead shares the front line Marshall Brown on valve trombone and bass trumpet, again showing a decidedly forward thinking line-up.
However, instead of coming across like the Coleman Quartet, Russell’s group achieves a sound that shares more in common with the Mulligan/Baker collaboration, using counterpoint and harmony to create unique and novel melodies. Every tune is taken at a relaxed pace, which only serves to emphasize the precise swing of George and Bedford. Most people felt that the clarinet had no place in the direction jazz was heading, yet Russell’s wooden, earthy soloing nudges the instrument into a fresh context.
As a result we have a jazz veteran who shows a remarkable facility for navigating new tunes without sounding uncomfortable, and who as a result created one of the finest records of his career. How many artists near sixty can say the same?
Track Listing: 1. Turnaround 2. How About Me? 3. Ask Me Now 4. Some Other Blues 5. I
Personnel: Pee Wee Russell-clarinet; Marshall Brown-valve trombone, bass trumpet; Russell George-bass; Ronnie Bedford-drums.