Nat Adderley: Little Big Horn!
Not that it’s fair, but Nat Adderley will always be considered the Little Brother; he was even billed that way on an album. Tunes like “Work Song” built the funky base of the Adderley band, he used Wes Montgomery at the start of his meteoric rise, and Ellis Marsalis on a New Orleans live album Still Nat remained in the shadow, and he tried to break out in a series of albums for Riverside. This one, from 1963, gives us eight tunes by Nat and two different quintets, each with a star guitarist. The moods are many, and so are the pleasures.
Nat’s echoing cornet opens a bullfight, and Jim Hall joins him in the theme of “El Chico”. What stands out is how loud Nat is; he’s asserting himself, and is brassier than normal. Hall’s solois relaxed, with a few hints of the Spanish style. Junior Mance comes in bright and bluesy, showing throughout why he was a superlative accompanist. His sound is light, but he charges the tune as much as Nat did. And when the leader returns, he stands stately as he takes the theme home. Proud and confident; a great opener.
“Foo Foo” is a funky blues, reminding me of Big Brother’s “Sack O’ Woe”. Here the guitarist is Kenny Burrell; he sounds cleaner than Hall, and his typically liquid notes have a nice bite to them. Mance bends the chords hard as Nat takes a leisurely solo; he has the assurance of “El Chico” with a quieter horn. Typical Adderley and typically good.
“Loneliness” is a great mood-setter; its chords seem to be the basis for the Shangri-Las’ “Dressed in Black”. (Don’t laugh – “Remember [Walking in the Sand]” has the chords of MJQ’s “Sketch”.) The tune marches at funeral pace while Nat blows soft and sad; something tragic has happened, and he won’t tell us what. Burrell’s solo retains his high tone, but without the happiness I always associate with him. Nat returns, and it seems even slower; this is four minutes long, but it sounds like the blues will never leave.
The clouds are chased on “Little Big Horn”, which sounds more like a show tune than “Broadway Lady”, which appears later. Nat is muted here, and he sounds warmer than anything this side of Miles. Burrell’s solo is his typical jaunty self, and Mance is a sophisticated lounge pianist, with just a hint of blues to let us know where he came from.
On “Half-Time”, Nat is (what else?) a marching band, stepping high as the drums do their cadence. Nat sounds deep as he gives us a very happy solo. Hall is back on guitar, and he sounds darker than Burrell, getting in some slides and heavy strums. The fadeout comes quick, as Nat marches off the field.
“Broadway Lady” sounds like a fashion show, with high brass and sweet sophistication. (The liner notes call it “more lady than Broadway”.) Mance comes in with confidence, as the lady struts her stuff. Nat takes her out for a night to remember, with high whoops and dancing rhythm. Hall is gentle, sweet – and shy; a lady all right, but not Broadway. Mickey Roker sets off the fireworks at the end as flashbulbs go off.
“Roses for Your Pillow” is an especially lovely ballad, a wakeup gift on a lazy morning. (The title suggests “Violets for Your Furs”, but there is no musical resemblance.) Both Nat and Hall serenade us, with Hall’s best effort of the date. Then everybody wakes up on “Hustle With Russell”, with its sterling piano, and a sailing solo from Nat. Burrell’s return is welcome; his solo has a special tang. It’s probably the weakest tune on the album, but only because the standard is so high – it’s like complaining about a B- on a report card full of A’s.
For consistency, this is my favorite Nat album of those I’ve heard so far. His versatility (as composer and musician) is appreciated, and the many moods make for a very sound package. Nat Adderley may be the Little Brother, but here he shines big.