Sea Changes is an honest-to-god jazzconcept albumfrom composer / pianist Tommy Flanagan. Born in 1930 Detroit, but known more resonantly as a ‘Big Apple’ jazzman, where by the mid-1950s he had moved to groove alongside the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis and Oscar Pettiford. Flanagan was frequently Bud Powell’s replacement at Birdland, and has also worked extensively with vocalists Tony Bennett and for nearly a dozen years (off and on) with Ella Fitzgerald. For the past two decades he has performed almost exclusively in small ensembles such as the one captured here with the remarkably single-minded rhythm team of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Nash.
On Sea Changes, the pianist reinvents several tunes from his debut album under his own name, Overseas, released in 1957 by the Swedish company Metronome and featuring Flanagan with drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Wilbur Little, his then-current cohorts in the J. J. Johnson band on tour in Sweden. He reprises several of his own compositions – "Eclypso," "Verdandi," "Delarna," "Beats Up" – and his cover of Charlie Parker’s "Relaxin’ At Camarillo," then cleverly complements these with marine-influenced new titles like "How Deep Is The Ocean?" (Irving Berlin), "I Cover The Waterfront" (Johnny Green) and "The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea" (Harold Arlen). Flanagan also honors the city in which he recorded Overseas for Metronome with a glowing rendition of "Dear Old Stockholm" to end Sea Changes.
Flanagan find some seriously deep blues in the workhorse "C. C. Rider" and in "Ocean," so deep they’re almost purple, and as a listener you find yourself wondering if you’ve ever heard Irving Berlin sound quite this funky before. "Beats Up" and "Verdandi" (which Flanagan recalls dedicating "to the Swedish Temperance Society. I think it’s best to be sober to get through that tune!" in the liner notes) crackle crisply through more frantic yet never out-of-control rhythms. Washington and Nash perform together like an absolute two-headed, four-handed rhythm monster throughout. As a composer, Flanagan frequently delivers user-friendly, simple yet memorable melodies – I seriously doubt that I’ve ever heard "Delarna" or "Eclypso" before, but they both sound so darn FAMILIAR; "Delarna" brings to mind the gorgeous wonder of "Embraceable You," or perhaps it’s "Isn’t It Romantic?", and "Eclypso" bops and weaves like a compact left hook in a clever Sonny Rollins workout.
You’d imagine that an artist reaching the fourth decade into his body of work might have "sea-n changes". But in its own dignified, almost quiet, way, Sea Changes demonstrates that Tommy Flanagan remains a musician’s musician in every sense of the word – as an improviser and soloist, as a composer and arranger, as a melodic interpreter and as an accompanist for ample, robust solos by his musical partners. Proves it one more time, yet again and still.
Sea Changes; Verdandi; Delarna; Eclypso; How Deep Is The Ocean; C. C. Rider; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; Beat
Tommy Flanagan (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Lewis Nash (drums).