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There’s scene in Clint Eastwood’s biopic Bird that immediately springs to mind hearing these seminal Red Rodney sides. In the scene Rodney is forced to sing in front of an audience of rural Southerners under the dubious alias of blues singer in order to substantiate a ruse devised by Charlie Parker to camouflage his quintet’s racially-integrated ranks. Nervous and completely unprepared his attempts at down-home delivery are down right awful. But when he hoists his horn to his lips and begins to blow the crowd is almost instantly won over. Similarly on “I Love the Rhythm In A Riff,” the single instance where Rodney reaches for the mic on this two-fer, his delivery winds up landing in completely different time zone from that of his peer Chet Baker, but the instrumental aspects of the two quintets highlighted in these nineteen tracks make this disc fascinating from start to finish.
Combining two LPs the disc starts off with a mid-50s date and Chicago-base saxophonist/ trumpeter Ira Sullivan sharing the lead. Sullivan’s rough and tumble Bop chops mesh well with Rodney’s own mercurial agility and the duo takes no prisoners on the first dozen tracks. Also of note is a youthful Roy Haynes behind the drum kit. His crosshatched rhythms whip the group into a frenzy on burners like “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” and smooth things out with brushes on ballad features like “Laura.” Simmons and Sproles shore up the other supportive duties and Rodney remains in good hands through the closing relaxed swing of “Daddy-O.”
Quintet number two turns the clock back four years and finds Rodney fronting a rhythm section filled with Phils, each of whom covers his respective base with an ear cocked to the leader. Ford, a youthful altoist in the throes of full-fledged Charlie Parker infatuation, shares the front line. The material is more resolutely boppish by design (Rodney was then only a recent graduate from Parker’s fold) but vestiges of the trumpter’s early swing upbringing still remain. These influences are especially audible on a lush quartet reading of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” that places a dusky spotlight firmly on the bell of Rodney’s horn. Given the vintage of the second date, there’s a shade more crackle and hiss in the fidelity, but the imperfections actually end up adding measurably to the live flavor of the pieces. Both dates make a complimentary pairing and provide a generous portrait of Rodney, the artist, as a young man.
Track Listing: Taking a Chance On Love/ Dig This/ Red Is Blue/ Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie/ On Mike/ The Song Is You/ You and the Night and the Music/ Laura/ Hail to Dale/ Jeffie/ I Love The Rhythm In a Riff/ Daddy-O/ Red Wig/ The Baron/ Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/ Coogan
Personnel: Red Rodney- trumpet, vocal; Ira Sullivan- tenor saxophone, trumpet; Norman Simmons- piano; Victor Sproles- bass; Roy Haynes- drums; Jimmy Ford- alto saxophone; Phil Raphael- piano; Phil Leshin- bass; Phil Brown-drums. Recorded: June 8 & 27, 1955, September 27, 1951.