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Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner, Jr. was part of the fruitful exodus of Detroit jazzmen to New York in the late 1950s. Though his style was steeped in the deft architectures of Bebop his sound and approach also incorporated a healthy fascination with earlier traditions. This disc dusts off two of his sessions for the Jazzland label and delivers a substantial program of mainly originals from a player who should have recorded more often.
A strong team of sidemen fronted by guitarist Grant Green (on leave from Blue Note) is on board to assist. Throughout the disc Green’s guitar is unusually dry in terms of amplification making his single note lines seem all the more carefully chosen. “The Mode,” an up tempo swinger contrary to the connotation of its title, is positively charged by crystal clean solos from Red, Green, Harris and Tucker. “Never, Never Land” opens with a bright piano fantasia by Walton followed by Red’s reflective horn above a pillowy rhythm. “Ko-Kee” works off a swaggering set of blues-inflected changes and an authoritative core statement by Walton. The hard bop flag waves more prominently on the next several tunes, which trade up Green for the crisp trumpet stylings of Blue Mitchell. The brassman’s vivacious tone is especially effective on the rollicking “Blues For Donna” and his agile phrases work as a fine foil for bringing out Red’s more extroverted side. Green reconvenes with Humphries in tow for the final three tracks and the drummer even takes a few blistering choruses on the aptly titled “The Rhythm Thing.” Tucker’s tiptoe bass preface to “Blue Sonny” serves as another highlight of the final stretch and sets the stage smoothly for one of Red’s most creative solos of the entire disc.
One thing that really moves these sessions beyond the scope of the usual hard bop chaff of their vintage is the way Red’s various rhythm sections react to and support his own fluid inventions. Tucker was a vastly underrated session bassist who possessed the requisite chops for a leadership role, but always seems to favor lending his prodigious talent to the causes of others. Harris and Walton weren’t as uniformly altruistic, each carving out satisfying solo careers of their own. As for the drummers, Cobb served at the rhythmic core of one of Miles Davis’ most famous aggregations- the Kind of Blue ensemble, and Humphries eked out paychecks working behind the likes of Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. Albert “Tootie” Heath is also listed in the original liners, but is absent on the tray card roster so it’s unclear whether or not his sticks actually in service on any of the dates.
Red’s discography as a leader is fairly slight to begin with and since his Blue Note material ( Out of the Blue ) once again out of circulation this generous Fantasy two-fer becomes something of an essential purchase for listeners hungry to hear the unsung hard bop hero’s work.
Track Listing: Moon River/ I Like the Likes of You/ Super-20/ Bye, Bye Blues/ The Mode/ Never, Never Land/ Ko-Kee/ Images/ Blues For Donna/ Dodge City/ Blue Sonny/ The Rhythm Thing/ Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
Personnel: Sonny Red- alto saxophone (all tracks); Grant Green- guitar (1, 3, 5, 8-13); Barry Harris- piano (1, 3, 5, 8-13); George Tucker- bass (all tracks); Jimmy Cobb- drums (1-7, 11-13); Cedar Walton- piano (2, 4, 6-7); Lex Humpries- drums (8-10).