The good, the bad, and the ugly.
It would be so easy to dismiss this release as a collection of the painfully anemic efforts of a jazz giant trying to make the best of the late '60s jazz nadir using the vastly inferior popular music of the day as "the new standard". This seems to be true so far as "vastly inferior popular music" goes. Quartet and Orchestra, Milestone's most recent repackaging of pianist Bobby Timmons' work, contains many such bad examples. As unfair as it may be to explore this 30-plus year old music with "modern jazz criticism," "Up, Up and Away" sounds painfully dated. Derived from Timmons' last two studio albums for Milestone ( Got to Get It! (Milestone 9011, 1967) and Do You Know the Way? (Milestone 9020, 1968), Bobby Timmons' Quartets and Orchestra is ultimately a mixed blessing. Duke Ellington said that there are two types of music, good and bad. I tend to be a bit sunnier and say that indeed there are two types of music: all music is good but some music is simply better. Quartets and Orchestra contains both types. All of it is good; some of it is better. Much better.
Quartets and Orchestra
contains humidly funky performances of "Travelin' Light," "One Down," "The Spanish Count" and "Straight, No Chaser", plus earthy ballad versions of "Come Sunday", "Here's that Rainy Day," "Last Night When We Were Young", and "Something to Live For." "Soul Time" shows why Timmons wrote the book for "Soul-Jazz" piano. These pieces are wonderful and make this disc worth picking up. On the flip side, "If You Ain't Got It" and "So Tired," with their faux-Raylette back up singers and electric guitar, either sound dated and trite or, to be more historically kind, sound like the perfect period pieces for when Superfly
ruled the streets.
It is most unfortunate that any jazz musician much less the composer of "Moanin'," "This Here" and "Dat Dere" felt compelled to make themselves a more "marketable" jazz musician by using as a vehicle several particularly, pathetically bland and soulless instances of late '60s pop. Timmons was by no means alone in meeting the necessities of the market in this manner; Wes Montgomery, for merely one noteworthy example, also felt that he had to "appease" the public by covering The Beatles and other pop artists. It remains reassuring that both Timmons and Montgomery (and many others) executed their craft superbly. Perhaps that is the lesson: The true test of an artist is to interpret music that is beneath them and yet make it sound like part of the classic canon. And while Timmons accomplished this, you might be groovin' on this disc for "Soul Time" and yet keep moanin' because of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose."
While Timmons' brilliance is in evidence here, allow me to suggest three recordings that, perhaps, better reveal his true genius:
- Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers: Moanin' (Blue Note 46516, 1958). Holy Shit! This is where the rubber meets the road. Timmons finds himself in one of Blakey's best bands with the likes of Benny Golson and Lee Morgan...all playing Timmons' most famous piece as the title track in definitive fashion. Spring for the Rudy Van Gelder Edition.
- Bobby Timmons: This Here is Bobby Timmons (Riverside 1164 / OJC 104, 1960). Timmons plays all of his big hits in a trio space: "Moanin" is orchestral, "This Here" quietly funky, and "Dat Dere" a sleek ride. Timmons has Sam Jones and Jimmy Cobb for support.
- The Bobby Timmons Trio: In Person (Riverside 9391 / OJC 364). Ditto the above, sans "Moanin'". Timmons with Ron Carter and Albert Heath, no less.
Personnel: Bobby Timmons: piano, plus a cast of thousands.