The people at Prestige knew they had something special when they discovered Eric Kloss; here was a blind teenager who had grown up studying all the musical styles of the fifties and sixties and had the chops and ideas to hang with the best of them. To that end, the record label quickly recorded Kloss in a variety of settings to capitalize on his prodigious talents. These sessions are making their way onto CD on two-fer reissues, and First Class! is an excellent showcase for the boy wonder, who is featured in three different settings.
The first is decidedly commercial in nature, with a light rock beat and female voices in the background, and, despite some good players like Teddy Charles in the mix, it's largely a waste of Kloss's talents. The quintet material is far better. Kloss is joined in the front line by Jimmy Owens for a program of edgy hard bop along the lines of what Jackie McLean was doing at the beginning of the decade. Kloss's style of these tunes bears a striking resemblance to McLean's as well in his sharp, piercing tone and tendency to flirt with the avant-garde. Kloss contributes a few nifty originals, particularly "The Chasin' Game," a firebreather that has Kloss blowing hot on the heels of Owens in the head.
But nothing can compare to the third band, which features Kloss backed by Jaki Byard, Richard Davis, and Alan Dawson, a stellar group with advanced notions of improvisation that pushes Kloss even further. Sidemen isn't the right term for musicians who aren't likely to sit back from the ride when they can grab hold of the map and suggest all sorts of possible adventures. A high octane "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" features energetic soloing and ends up miles from the point of origin. Kloss contributes a couple of nice originals here, especially "Gentle One," a dark mysterious tune that could have been ripped from Wayne Shorter's notebook.
Much is made of Kloss being a teenager at the time of these recordings, but this means little unless he could keep up with the veterans. Fortunately, this CD shows that he could. Kloss hasn't been heard form in quite some time, but recordings like this late-'60s collection may help him earn some widely deserved acclaim.
Track Listing: 1. A Day In the Life of a Fool 2. Repeat 3. SLow Hot Wind 4. Gentle One 5. Grits and Gravy 6. Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise 7. You Don't Know What Love Is 8. Milestones 9. When I Fall In Love 10. Psychedelicatessen Rag 11. Comin' Home Baby 12. The Chasin' Game 13. One For Marianne 14. Chitlins Con Carne 15. Walkin' 16. African Cookbook.
Personnel: Eric Kloss - alto, tenor saxophone with: on 1, 3, 5: Danny Bank - baritone saxophone, flute; Teddy Charles - vibes; Al Williams - piano;l Billy Butler - guitar; Ronnie Boykins - bass; Robert Gregg - drums; plus vocals. On 2,4,6-10: Jaki Byard - piano; Richard Davis - bass; Alan Dawson - drums. On 11-16: Jimmy Owens - trumpet, flugelhorn; Cedar Walton - piano; Leroy Vinnegar - bass; Alan Dawson - drums.