From the outset, pianist Sonny Clark's sophomore effort as a leader is crisp, white-hot hard bop. Leading a standard bop trumpet-tenor saxophone quintet (Donald Byrd
, John Coltrane
), supplemented with trombone (Curtis Fuller
), Clark and his most reliable rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers
and drummer Art Taylor
carve five dictionary examples (with alternate takes on the CD) of the music evolving from bebop, principally on the East Coast (if we consider that cool jazz took root on the West Coast after the release of Miles Davis
' Birth of the Cool
(Capitol, 1949/1998) sessions). Music tight and bright, it kicks open the door and takes command.
The opener "With A Song In My Heart" presents Donald Byrd's clear, bell trumpet tone presenting the melody with Coltrane's tenor saxophone performing a circuitous background obbligato. Byrd takes the first solo, leading into Coltrane's commanding choruses. Fuller's full-throated solo is outstanding. The leader solos last, punctuating the performance before Byrd introduces the coda. This is what excitement sounds like. "Speak Low" is given a bit of a Caribbean vibe by Taylor's deft drumming. Coltrane is the prominent soloist on the piece, demonstrating his command of melody and giving some glimpses of how his performance style would change over the next three years. He is shot from the open chorus release as if from a slingshot, gently giving way of a round Fuller solo full of quarter and eighth notes. Byrd is sturdy and full of sunshine, while the leader gives his solo rapid and careful thought.
"Come Rain or Come Shine" features Fuller blowing brief balladic lines close to the melody all the way up to Clark's solo turn. The tempo is slow and carefully curated by Chambers and Taylor. The centerpiece is Clark's scintillating blues, "Sonny's Crib," sounding as if it could have come from the horn of Lee Morgan
. The longest piece on the record, "Sonny's Crib," offers all players an intense stretch, which Coltrane takes full advantage of, revealing where he is going when he returns to the same studio to record Blue Train
(Blue Note, 1958) two weeks later. Byrd turns up the heat with his open bell and Paul Chambers shows why he is the definition of "swing." "Sonny's Crib" is to Clark what "Walkin'" was to Miles Davis
, a supreme setting of blues playing. Sonny's Crib
has alway been well received. Clark's knack for arrangement and his spare piano style put him in the same category as Tadd Dameron
and ensured his place as one of the founders and interpreters of hard bop. For many listeners, this is the sound of jazz.
With a Song in My Heart; Speak Low; Come Rain or Come Shine; Sonny's Crib; News for Lulu; With a Song in My Heart (alt
tk); Speak Low (alt tk); Sonny's Crib (alt tk).