Sonny's Crib is a very pleasing recording from the sadly overlooked pianist Sonny Clark that works very well as a representative piece of the Blue Note catalogue at the time, framing all the characteristics that made that label so successful. It is essentially a blowing session, and to some extent, a preparation for Coltrane's seminal Blue Train, which was recorded several weeks after Sonny's Crib and featured the same ensemble with Lee Morgan subbing for Donald Byrd and Kenny Drew replacing Sonny Clark.
Donald Byrd steals the show on the opening "With a Song in My Heart" with his knotty, tail-chasing solo which finds him playing with much more fervor than this listener has previously heard. Of special note is the interpretation of the standard "Speak Low." Clark was as talented a composer as an improviser, and his skills as an arranger are epsecially evident in the Cuban-flavored intro that leads brilliantly into Coltrane's sheets of sound. Trane's reading of the melody resembles a preacher delivering a sermon with overwhelming approval from his audience (Fuller, Byrd, and Clark). A caveat emptor: due to a flaw on the master tapes, there is a very noticeable drop in the sound levels during Coltrane's solo; however, the quality of the music is more than enough to make up for this relatively minor detraction. Clark's mastery of the blues is clear throughout, but nowhere is it more apparent than on the title track. His deliciously melodic lines have the listener savoring every note and dancing to the burning flurries of harmony. Chambers and Taylor don't disappoint as one of the most dependable rhythm sections in the business, and offer especially sympathetic accompaniment on the centerpiece of the album, "News For Lulu." This tune, which has been adopted by the New York downtowners (John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and George Lewis released two albums under the names News for Lulu and More News for Lulu ), is the only one on the recording that puts Clark's compositional skills under the spotlight for its entirety, and it is undeniable evidence that his death in 1962 was one of the jazz's greatest tragedies. Based on a catchy, rhythmically unpredictable piano riff that modulates up to a series of chords, it brings back the Latin feel foreshadowed by "Speak Low," and drenches it with the blues. Coltrane takes another impassioned solo, and the band makes a triumphant return to the melody to bring an end to both the piece and the recording.
While Clark's more personalized and cohesive recording Cool Struttin' is able to look down its nose somewhat at Sonny's Crib ( Cool Struttin' is, in this reviewer's opinion, one of those recordings that, like Kind of Blue and The Blues and the Abstract Truth, leaves absolutely no room for improvement and is more enjoyable with each listen), any glimpse into Clark's career as a leader is worthwhile due to its unfortunate brevity. Sonny's Crib is a throughly enjoyable recording that finds all members of its all-star ensemble playing at their peaks, and should be sought out before it disappears from store shelves.
Track Listing: 1. With a Song in My Heart; 2. Speak Low; 3. Come Rain or Come Shine; 4. Sonny's Crib; 5. News for Lulu; 6. With a Song in My Heart (alt tk); 7. Speak Low (alt tk); 8. Sonny's Crib (alt tk).
Personnel: DONALD BYRD, trumpet; CURTIS FULLER, trombone; JOHN COLTRANE, tenor saxophone; SONNY CLARK, piano; PAUL CHAMBERS, bass; ART TAYLOR, drums.