Fruitful partnerships in jazz are one the principal ways both the music and the musicians stay creatively vital. Having a close colleague to riff off of and goad on keeps even an art form based on improvisation from going stale. Stitt and Patterson shared just such a relationship. The saxophonist and the organist teamed up on over a dozen dates together in the late 60s, frequently with drummer James in tow. This Prestige two-fer collects two of their early meetings: the Stitt-led Nightcrawler and The Boss Men ostensibly helmed by Patterson. Tacked on to beef-up the disc’s running time are two more tracks from another Stitt album, Shangri-La, which finds the bop doyen trading up for tenor.
The two primary sessions were waxed only months apart and their proximity carries over into continuity between songbooks. Blues-based originals and a handful of standards round out the crop of tunes and the trio wastes no time in harvesting them. “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” kicks the disc off at a brisk clip over James racing cymbal fire. The drummer tosses in a few martial drum breaks at the close punctuating Stitt’s smooth toned melodic declarations. One of the immediately audible aspects of this errant trio is their reverence for space and thematic flexibility. While several of the tunes traffic in rapid tempos nothing ever seems rushed. Stitt’s a venerated veteran and he knows it, taking the changes with a diplomatic amiability that proves a model of self-assurance and pacing. His alto positively sings in points and it’s a true joy to hear him blowing so effusively in such economical setting.
Whether soloing or filling in the chordal cracks around his partners’ Patterson is similarly confident. His glimmering lines sport a slippery weightlessness at odds with the stereotypical heavy-handed, lead-footed organists of the era. The airy, but acrobatic reading of “Tangerine” serves as a strong example of his willingness to forego theatrics in favor of supportive swing. James is at times a basher, striking his skins with a strident urgency, as on But more often he slides easily into an accompanist’s role sculpting syncopated grooves and soothing brush patterns with equal alacrity. Stitt’s switch to tenor on the last two tracks is seamless and trio misses nary a beat in applying the new formula. The Prestige brass and listeners alike recognized the players shared affinity and while these sessions are just two of many the trio took part in over the years they are each representative of the kind of creative sparks usually kicked up at each encounter.
Fantasy on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Sonny Stitt- alto & tenor saxophones; Don Patterson- organ; Billy James- drums. Recorded: September 21 & December 28, 1965; March 19, 1964, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
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