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Milt Jackson: Soul Pioneers / Tommy Flanagan: The Cats

Greg Thomas By

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Milt Jackson
Soul Pioneers: The Milt Jackson Quartet featuring Horace Silver
Concord Music Group
2004

From the opening tag of the first tune on this 1955 recording, one relaxes on the axis of the steel vibes of Milt Jackson, joined by his Modern Jazz Quartet mates Percy Heath and Connie Kay, along with soul jazz pioneer Horace Silver. The original Prestige rerelease in the early '60s was dubbed Soul Pioneers.

Marketing labels aside, Jackson's playing sings throughout and his trademark warm vibrato rings on ballads such as "My Funny Valentine , "The Nearness of You and "I Should Care .

His incorporation of a blues/gospel feel peppered with traces of bebop is another Jackson signature. Silver, pianist in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at the time, was a perfect choice; his comping and solos combine similar aspects of the Afro-American musical continuum. Silver is a master of accompaniment and "Stonewall , an up-tempo favorite of this listener and the opening number "Wonder Why spotlight his contribution in this regard.

Unlike MJQ's contrapuntal approach however, this date is a loose blowing session following a basic melody-solos-melody format. Heath and Kay are stalwart on bass and drums respectively, as usual. The disc's re-mastering, utilizing JVC's 20-Bit K2 Super Coding System, is a high-resolution wonder, providing remarkable clarity of sound.

Tommy Flanagan
Flanagan/Coltrane/Burrell: The Cats
Concord Music Group
2004

The Cats, a 1957 Tommy Flanagan date featuring John Coltrane, Idrees Sulieman and fellow Detroit natives Kenny Burrell, Doug Watkins and Louis Hayes, showcases Flanagan's compositional talents with four of his original tunes performed by the sextet. The standard "How Long Has This Been Going On is presented via trio and showcases Flanagan's tender touch and Hayes' brush prowess, with Watkins' bass blending perfectly.

"Eclypso , with its Caribbean-flavored head, has Flanagan flowing bebop lines with ease and Sulieman blowing a textured trumpet solo in the Fats Navarro-Clifford Brown style. Kenny Burrell, regarded by many as the midpoint guitar master between Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery, shares the melody line on "Solacium (The tune's title is the Latin word for 'solace'). This sentiment is especially true of Flanagan's and Sulieman's solos.

John Coltrane, here in his middle period, begins his improvisation languorously but quickly assures with his "sheets of sound , squeezing flurries of notes from his horn. Burrell follows suit, starting with a blues-drenched statement of empathy, but filling the arc of his solo with double-time finesse.

The CD closes with a blues, "Tommy's Tune , and tells a similar instrumental story, each player initially mournful but fighting the blue devils of discontent. Rhythm section support is superlative. Coltrane's cries and Watkins' sighs during his one solo on the session are a fitting end: only two of these artists, Hayes and Burrell, remain with us today.


Tracks and Personnel

Soul Pioneers: The Milt Jackson Quartet featuring Horace Silver

Tracks: Wonder Why; My Funny Valentine; Moonray; The Nearness of You; Stonewall; I Should Care.

Personnel: Milt Jackson: vibes; Horace Silver: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Connie Kay: drums

Flanagan/Coltrane/Burrell: The Cats

Tracks: Minor Mishap; How Long Has This Been Going On?; Eclypso; Solacium; Tommy's Tune

Personnel: Tommy Flanagan: piano; John Coltrane: tenor saxophone; Idrees Sulieman: trumpet; Kenny Burrell: guitar; Doug Watkins: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.

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