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Jazz pianists in the era of Monk and Powell faced an almost Sisyphean task when it came to currying popularity with the public. These two doyens of the instrument cast a nimbus of influence so wide that even luminaries like Elmo Hope and Herbie Nichols were subsumed in their shadows. Despite being present during the birthing of be-bop and serving as Charlie “Bird” Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan was another one caught under blinding Klieg lights that the two put up. Facing indifference, he did what most jazz musicians do when they reach the end of their tolerance rope. He expatriated to Europe and didn’t look back.
Settling in Stockholm in 1978, Jordan cultivated a strong relationship with Steeplechase. Over the years became something of the house pianist for the label, appearing on 26 albums as a leader or sideman. Many of the sessions were trio affairs and this latest release (culled from a '78 concert in the country of the disc’s title) presents one of his strongest and most creative aggregations. Little on bass and Richmond on drums make for a responsive rhythm team. Both men were in much the same boat as Jordan, solid artisans whose reliability as a sidemen cost them credibility as leaders in their own right. Richmond was particularly susceptible to such public oversight during his lengthy run as Mingus’ right hand man.
The program is packed to near-capacity with a dozen tracks, mainly standards, but also a handful of Jordan originals. The oddly bright and buoyant “Jealous Blues” opens the set, the first of four consecutive tunes by the pianist, and the simple chords make for resilient warm up material. Richmond is especially expressive, pushing the trio along on choppy snare beat. Little’s solo cleverly employs stops and ostinato breaks to sustain a groove before the drummer carves out a string of breaks of his own that effectively boost the rhythmic tension of the tune. Many more peaks follow including Jordan’s “The Bullet,” written in honor of the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train, which moves a brisk be-bop pace and builds from a dark, Powell-flavored theme. Choice readings of Bird’s “Ornithology” and Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” also set the bar high for consistency and quality.
Most of the tracks time in at over five minutes apiece and allow for generous interplay between the three players. Fidelity is relatively clear and free of sonic detritus, with Richmond’s cymbals up front and Little’s strings a bit further back in the mix. The sleeve note photo featuring the trio decked out in casual '70s duds on the bandstand seems a perfect distillation of the disc’s charms and rewards.
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me
I was first exposed to jazz as a middle school band student. A college ensemble passed through and put on a concert for the band students (of which I was one). The level of mastery and musicianship blew me away, intimidated, and inspired me. Try as I might, I was never able to achieve a high enough level of competency to perform at the level I was first and subsequently exposed to. Regardless, I was hooked on jazz and remain so to this day.