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Sonny Clark: Dial "S" For Sonny

Greg Simmons By

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Original copies of Blue Note 1570—Dial "S" For Sonny—are among the rarer Blue Note records, often changing hands for thousands of dollars for even a mediocre copy. That's an awful lot of scratch for a fifty-six year old piece of pressed vinyl and a cardboard sleeve. Fortunately, there are better ways to hear pianist Sonny Clark's debut recording for the fabled label. The Music Matters series of two-disk, 45 rpm vinyl records is winding down after close to one hundred titles, and Dial "S" For Sonny made it in under the wire.

Clark's all too brief career was cut short when he died in 1963 at the age of 32, but he left a very well regarded, if relatively brief, collection of recordings. Growing up in Pittsburgh and then initially playing professionally on the west coast before returning to New York, he was essentially a blues player, but with a keenly developed sense of structural complexity in both his compositions and improvisations.

He plays with insistent swing and drive, even as he sticks to mostly mid tempos. On "Love Walked In" the horns sit out, and only drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Wilbur Ware accompany him. He opens the song with a tenderly romantic intro, but then delves into a solid well-constructed solo. He never gets too far off the tune, but fills it with his own harmonic textures and figures.

Clark's piano playing is excellent throughout, but most of the record is a septet with some of the most legendary musicians of the era (and in the case of Louis Hayes, even today). On the ballad "It Could Happen To You" Art Farmer blows a warm, bronzed trumpet, full of volume and weight, before clearing off for Clark's appropriately spare improvisation. Then Hank Mobley takes over with a soft-toned statement that fully captures the mood of the song. Finally, Curtis Fuller joins in with a short closing statement that makes a real case for the trombone's ability to convey subtlety and emotion in a ballad.

The Music Matters 45s are all about getting the best possible analog sound from the original master tapes, and Dial "S" lives up to the series standards. As a monaural recording it doesn't suffer from the sometimes controversial hard left-right panning of the stereo Blue Notes. The sound is rich, full and detailed, with a wide image. The record is a prime example of 'big mono' that marks the best mono recordings of the era. The pressing quality and printing of the gatefold cover is first-rate, befitting the premium price of the package.

Dial "S" For Sonny is one of those great old recordings that's worth seeking out to hear some young hard boppers playing their best. The musicians are brilliant, the music is solid, and—in the case of this Music Maters pressing—the reissue is first class all the way.

Track Listing: Dial "S" For Sonny; Bootin' It; It Could Happen To You; Sonny's Mood; Shoutin' On A Riff; Love Walked In.

Personnel: Sonny Clark: piano; Curtis Fuller: trombone; Hank Mobley: tenor; Art Farmer: trumpet; Wilbur Ware: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.

Title: Dial "S" For Sonny | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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