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Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin’ – 1958

Marc Davis By

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Blue Note Records was many things in the 1950s and '60s, but it was never the home of cool jazz. Yes, it was ground zero for hard bop in the '50s. And yes, it was the capital of soul-jazz in the '60s. But to release an album in 1958 (one year after Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool) with the word "cool" in the title was a very un-Blue Note-ish thing.

And yet Cool Struttin'—led by pianist Sonny Clark—really is an extremely cool album.

This is not cool in the Miles Davis-Stan Getz sense. No West Coast jazz here. Cool Struttin' is music firmly in the Blue Note tradition—hard bop with a decidedly relaxed, bluesy, cool perspective. It features an excellent band, starting with Clark, but also trumpeter Art Farmer, saxman Jackie McLean and the ubiquitous Blue Note tandem of Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Are you in the mood to chill? Start right off with the title cut, a nine-minute relaxed blues with outstanding solos all around. This is Clark at his very best—emotional and laid back without being showy. Great solos follow from Farmer and McLean.

Track 2, "Blue Minor," another Clark original, keeps up the mood. It's a Latin-ish toe-tapper featuring a wonderful, noir-like McLean. Again, not aggressive hard bop, as you expect on Blue Note, but a showcase nonetheless.

By far the strangest number is "Lover," a Rodgers-and-Hart tune that starts as a standard bebop number, then abruptly changes to waltz time, then back to fast 4/4 bop. Interesting, creative, but weird.

Clark is one of those pianists you hear a lot if you listen to Blue Note albums from the '50s and '60s—first as a favorite sideman, then as a leader with an incredible 14 records from 1957 to 1962. Many of them are very good, and Cool Struttin' is arguably the best. Yet Clark never became a big name like fellow Blue Note pianists Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock.

Still, he's worth getting.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Plentiful

Cost: A mere $2 used

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