In the new liner notes included with this addition to the Keepnews Collection
on Riverside, the producer expresses his satisfaction with this 1957 "blowing" album, showcasing the trumpeter whom, after Clifford Brown, he considers second to none. Recorded approximately a year following Brown's passing, the date demonstrates Dorham's gifts as a balladeer, composer and, above all, as a pyrotechnicianthe kind of player who can take apart a song's chord structure and reconstruct it with surgical precision, even while operating at blinding speed.
In the last half of the 1950s Max Roach practically redefined the meaning and uses of the fast tempo, generating such a head of steam that, in the beginning, bass players settled for the first and third beat of each measure and horn players soared in half-time over the drummer's intimidating, torrential time streams. Not Kenny Dorham. On the opening, medium-up-tempo of "Falling in Love," he even double-times his solo. On Dorham's own "La Villa," Roach supplies the break-speed tempo and the trumpeter lets the notes fly without allowing so much as a single one to get away from his thought process or execution. He's with Roach on every subdivision of the already kamikaze pulse, the performance possibly Dorham's most technically accomplished solo on record; moreover, it brings Sonny Rollins, who starts slowly on the session, up to speed.
Admittedly, the Dorham/Rollins pairing is more satisfying overall on Roach's Jazz in 3/4 Time (EmArcy, 1957). The inclusion of "I Remember April" on the present date practically invites listeners new to Dorham to compare him immediately with Clifford Brown who, on his last recording and only date with Rollins, had submitted a memorable performance of the same song [At Basin Street (EmArcy, 1956)]. But such comparisons can be as deceptive as they are edifying.
"Brownie" was a passionate Romantic, his brilliant, brassy tone full of daring, emotion and near- theatrical splendor. "K. D."'s temperament was more Schubert than Verdi, more scaled to chamber music than grand opera. His is an equally compelling voice, but one that requires an adjustment on the listener's part to be able to absorb all of its subtle intricacies. In some respects, the tenor player on most of the Brown-Roach recordings, Harold Land, would have been the ideal complement to Dorham's smallish sound and letter-perfect execution.
The "contrasts" of the title are apparently in reference to the three ballads, which employ a flowery harp. Among them, "My Old Flame features thoughtful, lyrical turns by Dorham both before and after Rollins' solo. To present-day listeners, Oscar Pettiford's bass will sound under-recorded, but both he and pianist Hank Jones maintain unflappable composure and provide unfailing support in the face of the leader's and drummer's flame-setting pace.