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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
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.