Paul Chambers: Paul Chambers: Paul Chambers Quintet - 1957

Marc Davis By

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'Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise' is the Oscar Hammerstein classic, but quicker and surprisingly catchy and moving.
From 1955 to 1965, Paul Chambers was probably the most prolific jazz bassist in the world. He appeared on scores of albums, including some of the best and most famous of all time. So it was not a huge surprise when, in 1957, he turned out a classic of the genre. Bass on Top literally turned jazz on its head, transforming the bass into the lead melody instrument. It was a novel idea, but difficult for some fans to digest.

A few months before recording that landmark album, Chambers led a more conventional band on a more conventional hard bop record, called simply Paul Chambers Quintet. It's an enjoyable record, though not a groundbreaker.

Here, the horns—trumpeter Donald Byrd and tenor saxman Clifford Jordan—take the lead, along with delightful contributions from pianist Tommy Flanagan. And if you didn't already know it was a band led by the bassist, well, just listen to the opener, Benny Golson's "Minor Run-Down." It's a toe-tapper—a catchy, bluesy affair with long bass solos at the start. Then Byrd and Jordan take control and it turns into a bopper with soul to spare.

The album's closer, a Chambers original called "Beauteous," is another upbeat ensemble piece with generous room for solos and a mildly Latin beat. A fun piece, but nothing you haven't heard before.

Quintet really perks up in two middle-of-the-album tunes with out-of-the-ordinary bass parts. "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" is the Oscar Hammerstein classic, but taken at a quicker pace and with melody stated on bass. It's surprisingly catchy and moving, before moving on to piano and horn solos.

"Four Strings" is another Golson tune, and another fast-bopping pleaser that starts with a long bass statement— appropriately for a song titled "Four Strings." The horns are terrific, and Flanagan is nimble and pleasing, but it's Chambers' bass that makes this is an unexpected standout.

Charles Mingus may have been the most famous and innovative jazz bassist of the '50s and '60s, and Bass on Top may be the most in-your-face bass-oriented album of the period. But Paul Chambers Quintet is a joyful, conventional slice of bop with wonderful sidemen that make this a better-than-average outing.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Easy to get, but not cheap

Cost: Weirdly expensive new on Amazon —$22—but a cheap $5 for the MP3 files

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