A generation older than the tenor saxophone young Turks who helped define Blue Note during its 1955-65 heyday, Ike Quebec's style was fully formed a decade before the innovations of Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter and Joe Hendersonand his legacy has been consistently overshadowed as a result. But while Quebec may not have been storming any barricades, his sumptuous, blues-drenched, swing-to-bop playing sounds as heartachingly beautiful today as it must have done all those years ago.
Born in 1918 and a dancer before he became a musician, Quebec came up through big bands like Cab Calloway's and countless off-radar neighbourhood bar jazz 'n' jump outfits. During his first spell with Blue Note in the mid-1940s, Quebec was the label's biggest jukebox star. He revisited the genre with relish, backed by organs and guitars, following his return to Blue Note in 1959.
Until his death in 1963, Quebec's style remained firmly in mid-40s swing-to-bop mode, with hefty admixtures of blues and R&B. It's probably no coincidence that two of the most enduring artists he introduced to Blue Note, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and baritone saxophonist Leo Parker, were his near-contemporaries and stylistic fellow travellers. Gordon may have been a shade less blues and R&B-explicit, but Parker more than redressed the balance.
Quebec played everything like it was the blues, even the most Caucasian of ballads, like Rodgers & Hammerstein's slow-strolling title track on It Might As Well Be Spring. His tone crosses sandpaper with velvet, his lines are vocalised and plain speaking, and his sophisticated command of the changes is tempered by smears, bent notes, honks and squeals. "Lover Man" and "Willow Weep For Me" inhabit the same gorgeous territory.
"Ol' Man River," by contrast, can rarely have been performed with such furiously paced, rococo extravagance. It may have been a neo-spiritual once, but, like Quebec's own up-tempo bop-blues "A Light Reprieve," it's red-eye jukebox jive here.
Recorded in December 1961, two weeks after Quebec's first 12" album, Heavy Soul was made with the same superb lineup, and only thirteen months before his death, It Might As Well Be Springhere in a significantly enhanced Rudy Van Gelder remaster editionstill rocks.
It Might As Well Be Spring; A Light Reprieve; Easy-Don't Hurt; Lover Man; Ol' Man River; Willow Weep For Me.
Ike Quebec: tenor saxophone; Freddie Roach: organ; Milton Hinton: bass; Al Harewood: drums.