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Old Dogs, New Tricks: Hines and Russell in the Sixties

David Rickert By

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Once Coltrane starting bringing in the dough, the Impulse! label had the financial support to gamble on riskier ventures, such as these recordings by two jazz veterans who made their name a generation prior. Due to advanced recording techniques and the watchful eye of experienced producers, both artists were able to produce some of the finest work of their career. As a welcome side note, Verve has abandoned the unwieldy miniature LP sleeves of the previous LPRs for a more standard CD package.

Once Upon A Time
Earl Hines
1966

Upon listening to this CD for the first time, you may have to glance at the cover to double check that you aren’t listening to an Ellington album by mistake, for this session is littered with Ellington stalwarts like Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, and Jimmy Hamilton. You may also do a double take when you notice that the rest of the rhythm section is comprised of mavericks Richard Davis and Elvin Jones. Despite the incongruities, all of them conspire to create a grand swinging session that features heavy dollops of boogie woogie and swing and plenty of growls, smears, and plungers as well. Working through a variety of numbers from a brooding “Black and Tan Fantasy” to a frenetic “Cottontail”, Hines and company produce some first-rate big band music. The horn and reed men deliver some scalding choruses; Cat Anderson in particular delivers some blistering high register solos. Surprisingly, Jones and Davis stick close to the beat and Hines, a reluctant soloist, prefers to fan the flames in the background. Pee Wee Russell steps in for “The Blues In My Flat”, which also features an effective vocal delivery by Ray Nance. After being an artist for so long, it’s refreshing to see one of the old masters at the top of his game so late in his career. A welcome reissue, especially for those who are eager to see assorted Ellington sidemen strut their stuff.

Ask Me Now
Pee Wee Russell
1965

Pee Wee Russell enjoyed a significant comeback with the original release of this session. Not content to live in the past, Russell doesn’t gaze in the rearview mirror as far back as we would expect. First off, he has chosen a program of (at the time) modern works by the likes of Coleman, Monk, and Coltrane, instead of the earlier jazz tunes that were his forte. Second, Russell dispenses with a piano and instead shares the front line Marshall Brown on valve trombone and bass trumpet, again showing a decidedly forward thinking line-up. However, instead of coming across like the Coleman Quartet, Russell’s group achieves a sound that has more in common with the Mulligan/Baker collaboration, using counterpoint and harmony to create unique and novel melodies. Every tune is taken at a relaxed pace which only serves to emphasize the precise swing of George and Bedford. Most people felt that the clarinet had no place in the direction jazz was heading, yet Russell’s wooden, earthy soloing nudges the instrument into a fresh context. As a result we have a jazz veteran who shows a remarkable facility for navigating new tunes without sounding uncomfortable, and as a result created one of the finest records of his career. How many artists near sixty can say the same?

Earl Hines-Once Upon A Time
Tracks: 1. Once Upon A Time 2. Black and Tan Fantasy 3. Fantastic That’s You 4. Cottontail 5. The Blues In My Flat 6. You Can Depend On Me 7. Hash Brown.
Personnel: Earl Hines-piano; Cat Anderson, Bill Berry, Ray Nance, Clark Terry-trumpet; Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper-trombone; Jimmy Hamilton-clarinet, tenor saxophone; Pee Wee Russell-clarinet; Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope-alto saxophone; Harold Ashby, Paul Gonsalves-tenor saxophone; Richard Davis, Aaron Bell-bass; Elvin Jones, Sonny Greer-drums.

Pee Wee Russell-Ask Me Now
Tracks: 1. Turnaround 2. How About Me? 3. Ask Me Now 4. Some Other Blues 5. I’d Climb The Highest Mountain 6. Licorice Stick 7. Prelude To A Kiss 8. Baby You Can Count On Me 9. Hackensack 10. Angel Eyes 11. Calypso Walk.
Personnel: Pee Wee Russell-clarinet; Marshall Brown-valve trombone, bass trumpet; Russell George-bass; Ronnie Bedford-drums.

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