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Elvin Jones: Revival - Live at Pookie's Pub


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Pookie's Pub was a mousey Manhattan club at Hudson and Dominick Streets in an area known since 1962 as SoHo—the area south of Houston Street and ending at Canal Street. Located at the base of a narrow, four-story brick building built in 1900, the venue in 1967 was on the moon, so to speak. Back then, as live electric rock and soul surged and thrived in Greenwich Village, live jazz by non-marquee groups was pushed to the far corners of the city where rents were more reasonable.

Pookie's was in an area that was deserted after dark and on the weekends. Way before the neighborhood became a trendy retail and residential haven starting in the early 1990s, most of the hulking buildings in West SoHo near the Hudson River were warehouses or cheap hotels and eateries servicing Manhattan's lengthy port system that ran roughly from 57th Street south to the island's tip.

Under the West Side Highway, which was elevated then, long piers became berths for all sorts of massive ships—from domestic and foreign passenger liners to global cargo ships heavy with goods from all over the world. Most of the streets in SoHo were cobblestone, not asphalt. The area was so lightly trafficked that the city didn't bother with the expense of modern paving there in the 1960s.

I remember my parents would drive all the way down the West Side Highway in the mid-1960s en-route to a meal in Chinatown. I marveled at the massive ships, one after the next, sporting colorful flags from all over the world. A great day is when one of those ships let off a blast of its horn

According to the Concert Database, drummer Elvin Jones performed at Pookie's almost nightly for six months—from June 6 until Christmas Eve of 1967—fronting a quintet or quartet, depending on who dropped by to play. Over the group's lengthy run, that fifth member included baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, pianist McCoy Tyner and Elvin's brother, Thad Jones.

The core of the group featured Elvin Jones on drums, Joe Farrell on tenor saxophone and flute, Billy Greene on piano and Wilbur Little on bass. For three nights—July 28, 29 and 30‚ in 1967—Bob Falesch recorded the music played there by Jones's group. And thank goodness he did, for we now have the results on a new spectacular release, Elvin Jones: Revival, Live at Pookie's Pub (Blue Note).

Co-produced by Zev Feldman and Ashley Kahn, the album features a tight group finding its place in jazz just 11 days after John Coltrane's death on July 17. In this set, we have documentation of what turns out to be one of the most exciting and dynamic quartets of the late 1960s. More important, it's the only recording of this group, making this album one of the greatest finds of the year (though I hear Zev has more astonishing finds up his sleeve this year; more on this in a week or so).

Interestingly, the Jones album is loaded with surprises. Here are four:
  • If you were uncertain about Jones's position in the pecking order of jazz drummers, you'll come away from this album with a clear fix on why he's considered among the very best. His accompaniment ranges from snarling brushes on Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and straight-ahead playing on My Funny Valentine to a driving gallop on Jimmy Heath's Gingerbread Boy and thrashing polyrhythmic eruptions on Joe Farrell's Avenue “B." As you'll hear, Jones was at the top of his game at Pookie's—free, in charge and pushing to get the very best out of his players. How many people were there on any given night is unclear, though a 1968 New Yorker profile by Whitney Balliett of Jones touches on the long gig (go here)
  • As magical as Jones was, this album in many ways belongs to Joe Farrell. Unless you're a drummer or a listener who can discern the nuances and rhythmic expressions of jazz drumming, you're more likely to respond to Farrell's staggering tenor saxophone and flute. On Jones's Keiko's Birthday March, Gingerbread Boy and Sonny Rollins's Oleo, Farrell is on fire. On Billy Greene's M.E. and On the Trail (from Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite), Farrell swings out lyrically. His flute playing on My Funny Valentine and Softly is precious and beautiful.
  • Larry Young, known mostly for his progressive organ playing, is found here on piano on Gingerbread Boy, handling the keyboard as he would a Hammond.
  • And then there is pianist Billy Greene. Prior to this recording, Greene could only be found on Elvin Jones's Heavy Sounds from 1968. Today, he is a mystery to the jazz world, and it's unclear how he came up or what happened to him after 1968. So in effect, this release sheds enormous light on his playing, which was exceptional.

This is listening music, meaning it commands that you are attentive to what's going on and savor the exceptional quality of the artistry in solos and in collaboration. You also need to listen to this album in full at least four times in a row before the import of what you're hearing becomes fully evident. After giving Revival multiple listens, I was amazed that nothing existed previously from Jones's long run at Pookie's or that this group went unrecorded. Given the shake out among the jazz divisions in the record industry by 1967, it's no wonder. Many of the smartest minds were redeployed to find artists and groups that played electronic instruments.

Hearing the music now for the first time, I couldn't help but wonder whether more recordings were made at Pookie's and are sitting in someone's basement. Jones's run was too lengthy and the music too good not to have been recorded at other points. For now, we'll have to be grateful to Zev and Ashley, whose detective work and liner notes are exceptional and indispensable.

After reading all of the booklet's liner notes, I find it mind-blowing that Zev spent 10 years trying to get this landmark material issued. Seems its importance would be obvious. Chalk another one up for Zev and three cheers for Blue Note.

JazzWax clips: Here's M.E....

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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