218

Sonny Criss: Intermission Riff

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
The tapes were on a high shelf in an old storeroom, so lost that their labels were barely legible. Producer Eric Miller stumbled upon them while putting other tapes back; the faint scrawling ("JATP/SHRINE/1951") piquing his interest. With the personnel unlisted, there was nothing to do but listen.

"As soon as I heard the alto, I stopped. It took my breath away...It was his show. You could hear the crowd swell, and then you could hear him react to the crowd. It was so extraordinary, it took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't Bird or Sonny Stitt or anyone of that school."

If the world has largely ignored Sonny Criss, it is the world's loss. He burst on the L.A. scene as a teenager, jamming with Bird and Dexter Gordon, and touring with Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1948 to 1950. JATP producer Norman Granz recorded Criss with Hampton Hawes, then helped to promote a 1951 tour of Billy Eckstine, which had criss in the backing band. Its opening date was at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium, and the band's feature spot is heard on this disc.

It's a powerhouse group, a pleasing mix of the famous and the soon-to-be. The horns are Joe Newman and Lockjaw Davis, both to join Basie, and Bennie Green, between stints with Earl Hines. The rhythm has Tommy Potter and Kenny Clarke; pianist Bobby Tucker is probably the most obscure of the bunch. This is a pickup group? Their shining moment came between sets, appropriately enough, on the tune "Intermission Riff". The horns punch the solid-brass riff, then Lockjaw solos, even more raucous than normal. You hear the musicians pop figners and shout him on, and he gets more and more screechy while keeping his mid-tempo burn. Newman's solo has a similar slow start, with the horns prodding him to a sharper sound amd more intense attack. No such boost needed for Criss; he goes ever higher, shouting the whole time with crystal clarity. His is the only solo to get major applause. I can tell why.

"How High The Moon" gets a calypso opening, and a kick-start from Newman. No sluggish opening here; he comes in brassy, shouting hot, quoting "Tenderly" in a untender solo, and sounding off with one last shout. Lockjaw comes on soft like Lester Young, and then the growl comes in; his quote is "Volga Boatman"! Potter's solo is good, but is slightly hurt by fuzzy sound; this also plagues Tucker. Green's solo is solid, using bits later heard on the famous "4 Trombones" date with Jay and Kai. Criss' solo has a thousand notes and a little hint of Parker's "Ornithology", which is based on these chords. You hear someone say "Yeah, Baby!" I agree. The applause comes at mid-solo, after a quote of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"; the crowd shouts "Go! Go!" and applauds again. The band takes up Sonny's hint, and the last group chorus is "Ornithology". A good end; a good number.

"Perdido" opens with a Criss solo, a little more mellow than the others; this time the horn riff enhances his sound. After this, he goes on full-gear, spinning his rapid-fire notes as the crowd goes "Ooh!" He also does some low growls, sounding like Lockjaw. Newman's solo is also mellow at first, hard at conclusion, again benefitting from a strong riff behind him. Big applause at the end, and someone says "A good one!"

The big voice in "Body and Soul" is Lockjaw; during his big gutbucket solo a musician sing-songs his lines after he plays them. Making fun or making tribute? I can't tell. Green then gets his best solo of the date: slow, sweet, mellow, and beautiful. There's a shared chorus at the end; it contains Criss' only solo. The send-off is "High Jump", a fast cutting-contest blues. Green opens swiftly, his solo full of tasty slides. Criss responds with his fastest solo, and it's as good as the one on "How High The Moon", full of repetition and wailing. Newman's tone gets a tad mushy at this speed, but there's plenty of fire. Lockjaw stays mellow for a couple minutes, then goes mad, quoting "Wild Blue Yonder" as he takes off! Clarke gets his fours, and the audience gets their money's worth. And this was the intermission! I wish I was there.

Personnel: Sonny Criss (alto sax); Bennie Green (trombone); Joe Newman (trumpet); Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (tenor sax); Bobby Tucker (piano); Tommy Potter (bass); Kenny Clarke (drums).

| Record Label: Fantasy Jazz | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture CD/LP/Track Review The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Coldest Second Yesterday CD/LP/Track Review Coldest Second Yesterday
by John Sharpe
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Chicago II CD/LP/Track Review Chicago II
by Doug Collette
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Follow Your Heart CD/LP/Track Review Follow Your Heart
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Live At Umbria Jazz" CD/LP/Track Review Live At Umbria Jazz
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: June 10, 2016
Read "The Frog, The Fish and The Whale" CD/LP/Track Review The Frog, The Fish and The Whale
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: September 24, 2016
Read "Jambú" CD/LP/Track Review Jambú
by Joe Gatto
Published: February 13, 2017
Read "So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain" CD/LP/Track Review So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain
by John Sharpe
Published: December 11, 2016
Read "A Multitude of Angels" CD/LP/Track Review A Multitude of Angels
by John Kelman
Published: December 1, 2016
Read "Roots Of Unity" CD/LP/Track Review Roots Of Unity
by Roger Farbey
Published: January 25, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!