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Charlie Rouse: Hail The Individual

Nic Jones By

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Every significant development in jazz has been the work of trailblazers. In the case of bebop of course the two most readily associated with the development have always been Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and whilst there is no little substance in this, the determinism of such a view obscures the contributions of other musicians who were active in the midst of this musical revolution. Whilst this situation has arguably never caused irreparable damage to any musician's career, it might be said to have caused some musicians to suffer neglect.

Charlie Rouse was the victim of some unstated critical consensus, which always seemed to mask the fact that he found his own way in the eye of the bebop hurricane. Guilty as he was of being neither John Coltrane nor Sonny Rollins at a time when such giants were more common, he was a tenor saxophonist who carved out his own niche, and in so doing found his personal resolution of the possibilities that bebop offered. In short, he did his own thing, and he does it effectively on both Bossa Nova Bacchanal and Social Call.

On the face of it the former of these titles might seem like an attempt at hopping aboard a passing bandwagon, recorded as it was at a time when the gentle melancholy of bossa nova struck a chord with an audience well beyond that of the core audience for jazz, and lured in no small part perhaps by Stan Getz's somnolent way with the idiom. Rouse's individuality was however of a different order to Getz's, and throughout the album it has the unexpected effect of highlighting the rhythmic emphasis of his playing, which might well have been in the forefront of Thelonious Monk's thoughts when he gave Rouse the gig with his quartet. Here Rouse's craggy individuality is compromised not a bit, a point which is emphasised by "One For Five" the additional track recorded in a more familiar hard bop setting in the company of Freddie Hubbard.

Social Call , recorded in the company of fellow bop veteran Red Rodney in trumpet in January of 1984, finds both men playing more reflectively than they did in the heyday of the idiom. The date is a late flowering of the bop message at a time when it was still relatively fresh -albeit deeply unfashionable- and the rhythm section of Albert Dailey, Cecil McBee and Kenny Washington is state of the art.

The fact that both Rouse and Rodney were in at the beginning seems to raise the bar a notch or two. Rodney in particular seems to have purged his playing of the grating exuberance that was often the mark of early bebop trumpeters, and his music is a lot more considered. Exhibiting a similar depth in his own playing, it's clear that one of Rouse's primary considerations at this stage was time; he allows himself all the time in the world here, and his playing is more telling as a result.

Jazz has never been about the relentless pushing on towards some ill-defined -or indeed indefinable- point, but what the passing of time has revealed is the importance, if not the primacy, of the individual voice as an essential requirement for enduring music. Throughout his lengthy career Charlie Rouse embraced that philosophy and his work always had the kind of depth that escaped critical consensus.

Bossa Nova Bacchanal - Blue Note 7243 5 93875 2 9
Social Call - Uptown UPCD 27.50


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