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If Low Flame High Heat proves nothing else, it proves the consistency of Hank Crawford. Listen to his most recent CD, The World Of Hank Crawford on Milestone. Then listen to Label M's Low Flame High Heat from the early 1960's. Crawford's urgent tone and spiritual feel haven't changed in decades, proving that he was extremely good early in his career and that even today no one quite sounds like him.
Low Flame High Heat compiles tracks from six of Crawford's Atlantic albums, all of which were produced by Nesuhi Ertegun in Crawford's heyday. Even more remarkable than Crawford's consistency is the consistency of the instrumentation on the albums, which range from 1960 to 1966. With only a few substitutions of musicians throughout the series of records, the arrangements remain fully voiced and deeply influenced by the blues.
A master at wringing emotion out of slow numbers, Crawford's liquid tone blends the separation between adjacent tones as he ascends in a phrase, and he inevitably holds out the long tones for their full values, even over a few measures. Blues tunes like "But On The Other Hand" or "Two Years Of Tortune" show Crawford strictly in his natural environment as he bends notes like crazy and always implies a 6/8 feel, recalling somewhat the popularity of doo-wap groups at that time.
Investing the tunes with an overflow of feeling, Crawford could easily be pigeonholed as lacking versatility. And then he plays "Angel Eyes."
The slow Matt Dennis song, often associated with Frank Sinatra, doesn't follow the expected Crawford path at all. Instead, he develops a freer approach without the blues tinge, resting occasionally between phrases instead of holding out tones, as if to allow for thought. Utilizing a greater range of dynamics on "Angel Eyes," Crawford proceeds along bop lines, showing that reservoirs of technique underlie the placid, beseeching exterior of his usual performances.
Low Flame High Heat presents Hank Crawford in sufficient variety to let us know that even today he is an alto saxophonist who has stayed true to one of the most distinctive sounds on the instrument.
Track Listing: Don't Get Around Much Anymore, But On The Other Hand, Lorelei's Lament, Save Your Love For Me, Angel Eyes, Two Years Of Torture, Easy Living, What Will I Tell My Heart, Don't Cry Baby, Danger Zone, You've Changed
Personnel: Hank Crawford, alto sax; Abdul Baari, David "Fathead" Newman, James Clay, Wendell Harrison, tenor sax; Howard Johnson, Leroy Cooper, baritone sax; Marcus Belgrave, Jimmy Owens, John Hunt, Phil Guilbeau, Fielder Floyd, trumpet; Sonny Forriest, guitar; Charlie Green, Edgar Willis, Charles Dungey, bass; Milt Turner, Bruno Carr, Joe Dukes, drums
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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