Mention to an aficionado the name Kenny Drew and the first thing to come to mind will undoubtedly be the pianist's inclusion on the 1957 jazz juggernaut Blue Train by John Coltrane, one of the genre's all-time bestselling albums. Appear on a release as legendary as Blue Train and you're bound to become a legend in your own right. Such is the case with Drew, whose own career as a leader while it may live in the shadow of that beloved Coltrane set is hardly overshadowed by it. Between 1953 and 1960, Drew led multiple dates across all of the major labels before following so many of his brethren to Copenhagen, Denmark, where his recording career as a leader would reconvene as many as 13 years later. Three recent reissues spotlight Drew at three different stages in his prolific career: as a sideman ready to cook with the industry's major players; as a leader bold enough to lead an allstar ensemble in a session of his own compositions; and 20 years later as a full-on expatriate whose abilities hadn't seemed to age one bit.
Farmer's Market, led by trumpeter Art Farmer, presents the listener with a chance to hear Drew playing the role of journeyman in an ensemble worthy of Blue Train's, this time with Hank Mobley on tenor sax, Farmer's brother Addison on bass and the legendary Elvin Jones (in a rare hard bop setting) on drums. The disc offers two Drew-penned compositions, about which there's nothing too extraordinary; they're simply well-conceived springboards that the group uses to stretch out and cook. Along with Drew's fine solo work on the Gigi Gryce ballad "Reminiscing , the album's highlight has to be the up-tempo title track, where Drew is inspired by Jones' sheer intensity on the skins. The band remains in top form throughout and the pristine remastering of this fine date makes it an essential addition to any library, especially to those of Elvin Jones fans interested in his pre-Coltrane days.
After having led two Blue Note sessions in the early '50s, Drew heeded the label's call in 1960 to lead a date, Undercurrent, featuring nothing but originals. They hardly skimped on the manpower, offering the pianist a chance to reunite with Mobley, along with adding the relative newcomer Freddie Hubbard, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes completing the rhythm section. While the music is definitely more advanced than that heard on Farmer's Market, everything is relatively straight-ahead; each track features a simple-yet- compelling hard bop theme, followed by a jam session showcasing each of the players. Many often draw comparisons between Drew and Bud Powell and it's definitely justified in Drew's opening notes on the title track, clearly recalling the intense, percussive style for which Powell was known. Drew's compositions motivate everyone involved to remain in top form, especially the obviously-eager Hubbard, as well as Hayes, who plays with a thunderous raucousness easily worthy of Art Blakey at his best.
The third selection finds Drew, now based in Copenhagen, 20 years after the recording of Undercurrent, and he sounds as though he's only improved with age. Drew teams up with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh (who shares leader credit with the pianist) for a 1980 session originally broadcast on Danish radio, but compiled and released by Storyville as Warne Marsh and Kenny Drew: In Copenhagen. Along with Bo Stief on bass and drummer Aage Tanggaard, Drew and Marsh stretch out with a lengthy set of standards that serves as a sort of survey of the great jazz composers, featuring songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others. This set is as straight-ahead as it comes, but that doesn't diminish the fine playing by everyone present. Drew's highlight comes during his haunting solo in the nearly ten-minute rendition of "Star Eyes .
While these releases, especially Farmer's Market and Undercurrent should be required listening for Drew fans, they only offer the tip of the iceberg in what is a long and storied career by the pianist as both leader and sideman (also recommended is his excellent work on Dexter Gordon's One Flight Up). They also make one yearn for Blue Note to remove from its vault Drew's debut recording as a leader from 1953: Introducing the Kenny Drew Trio, featuring Art Blakey and Curly Russell. Nevertheless, what we have here is essential straight-ahead jazz from a man who refused to be defined by the Coltrane album that, for many, defines him to this day.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: With Prestige; Ad-Dis-Un; Farmer's Market; Reminiscing; By Myself; Wailin' with Hank.
Personnel: Art Farmer: trumpet; Kenny Drew: piano; Hank Mobley: tenor sax; Addison Farmer: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.
Tracks: Undercurrent; Funk-Cosity; Lion's Den; The Pot's On; Groovin' The Blues; Ballade.
Personnel: Kenny Drew: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Hank Mobley: tenor saxophone; Sam Jones: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.
Tracks: I Got A Good One For You; Sophisticated Lady; On Green Dolphin Street; Star Eyes; Ornithology; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Little Willie Leaps.
Personnel: Warne Marsh: saxophone; Kenny Drew: piano; Bo Stief: bass; Aage Tanggaard: drums.