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Forgotten Finds

Great Sidemen - Great Leaders

By Published: April 7, 2011
As a bonus, the CD includes an entire second album, The Eleventh Hour, originally released by Verve in 1963, with arrangements by Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
. This one delves into some serious syrup, but despite an overdone string section, Hodges' horn is as beautiful here as on any other of his many recordings.

Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
1924 - 1988
sax, tenor
(1924-1988) is always going to be associated with his time spent in Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's 1960s quintet. His tenure was marked by some real highlights in Monk's discography, but he was also criticized—and with some justification—for staying too long, soldiering on in an outfit that sometimes seemed formulaic...bored, even. Rouse remained in Monk's employ for eleven years, by far the longest musical association in either artists' careers.

Rouse cut some great records both before and after his time with Monk. A number of his later releases feature, in particular, some of his best playing and most distinctive voice. His Sphere quartet, initially conceived as a tribute to Monk, quickly became a vehicle for new composition. Flight Path (Elektra, 1983) has only one Monk song ("Played Twice"), instead featuring music by Rouse and band mates, bassist Buster Williams
Buster Williams
Buster Williams
b.1942
bass
and pianist Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
. Rouse's tenor is smooth and understated, delivering well- written melodies and some sophisticated soloing. His sound on this date is, in some ways, reminiscent of Desmond with his focus on restrained delivery over emotional over-blowing. With this outfit, Rouse is clearly performing in a group rather than acting as a leader, with ample spotlight given over to his partners.

But Rouse saved his best for last. On June 6th and 7th, 1988, he entered the Rudy Van Gelder Studio (which mercifully had its piano issues sorted out by this time) with a sextet that included two underappreciated veterans, pianist Walter Davis Jr.
Walter Davis Jr.
Walter Davis Jr.
1932 - 1990
piano
and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Sahib Shihab
Sahib Shihab
Sahib Shihab
1925 - 1989
reeds
, as well as then-relative newcomer, trumpeter Claudio Roditi
Claudio Roditi
Claudio Roditi
b.1946
trumpet
. The Resulting Soul Mates (Uptown, 1993) is a fantastic and undervalued set that remains unheard by many jazz fans.

The hallmark of this date is the arranged harmonizing between Shihab's baritone and Rouse's tenor, which adds punch and bottom end weight to almost everything on the disc. Shihab's "DiDa" highlights the two saxophonists' instrumental interplay, with a bouncing two-note call-and-response, before the theme dissolves into a strolling blues. The band covers a lot of ground, including infrequently heard compositions by Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
Elmo Hope
1923 - 1967
piano
, Mal Waldron
Mal Waldron
Mal Waldron
1926 - 2002
piano
, and Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
. They play deep blues, swing and bebop with equal aplomb and vigor. They really cook on the opening "November Afternoon," and interpret Monk's battle-worn "Green Chimneys" with one of the most inventive renditions ever cut. Davis, in particular, pays homage to Monk, with a few direct quotes, but expands to include a broader piano language, even as someone in the background sings along, Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
style. Ray Bryant
Ray Bryant
Ray Bryant
1931 - 2011
piano
's "Prayer Song" possesses a harmonic texture reminiscent of "Abide With Me," from Monk's Monk's Music (Riverside, 1957).

This was the broadest, most creative album Rouse ever recorded in his forty-year career. His soloing demonstrates a creativity and verve that, for whatever reason, was not as prominent on his other recordings, and the arranging takes full advantage of the instruments at hand. The playlist alone is notable for its selections, drawn from deep in the vaults of composition. It's a crying shame this album was a one-off studio date, as this would have been one hell of a working band.

Strangely, the tapes were shelved after the session was completed. Four months after Soul Mates was recorded, Rouse was dead. Sahib Shihab followed the next year, and Davis Jr. just a couple years after that. Sadly, none of them lived to see the album released.

Rouse, Hodges and Desmond are just three of many musicians who made terrific music outside their stints with more famous leaders. There are surely hundreds, if not thousands, of albums out there by great musicians whose primary role was supporting other leader's ensembles. Pay attention to something that stands out on a session— a saxophone break on a piano album, or a single instrument soloing over a big band— and there's a very good chance that somewhere there is a recording, under that sideman's own name, that is well worth hearing.

Further Listening

Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out (Columbia, 1959)

Jim Hall, Concierto (CTI, 1975)

Johnny Hodges, Everybody Knows Johnny Hodges (Impulse, 1964)

Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges, Back to Back (Verve 1959)

Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser (Columbia, 1967)

Charlie Rouse, Social Call, featuring Red Rodney (Uptown, 1984)


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