Aside from the obvious heavyweights who came through the Blue Note fold, there’s that whole cast of musicians who fall under the category of “talent deserving of wider recognition”. Arguably, Blue Note might have been even more proficient at expounding the work of these neglected artists. Although not an exhaustive list, some of the names to be mentioned in this camp would have to include Dodo Greene, Fred Jackson, John Patton, Harold Vick, Tina Brooks, Freddie Roach, George Braith, Bennie Green, and Don Wilkerson. Although pianist Horace Parlan’s subsequent career has seen him active on the European front (unlike the many names lost to obscurity), he too is deserving of a wider fan base that somehow eluded him during his brief spell with Blue Note.
While much of the music presented here has been made available on disc either in Japan or the States, this set’s five discs gather it all together in one place for the first time ever. The development of Parlan as both a stylistic pianist and accomplished writer is mapped out, with producer Alfred Lion’s guidance proving invaluable in establishing some of the label’s most valuable pieces of work.
Movin’ & Groovin’, Us Three, and Headin’ South
Following his productive stint with Charles Mingus and a Blue Note session with Lou Donaldson in February of 1960, Parlan would formally launch his solo career on the label with the appropriately-titled Movin’ & Groovin’. This set would be the first of three trio affairs to be cut over a ten-month period. Rather or not it’s a by-product of his physical limitations (a case of childhood polio rendered useless the fourth and fifth fingers on Parlan’s right hand) or his naturally down-to-earth nature, the blues are always at the heart of Parlan’s musical explorations and like guitarist Grant Green he uses his limited technique to make the most out of what is a highly distinguishing approach. Throughout this appealing set of standards the trio acquits itself well, making for a solid debut.
Spelling bassist Sam Jones, George Tucker establishes himself in partnership with Parlan and drummer Al Harewood for the next two trio sets, Us Three and Headin’ South. The title track of the former bristles with a funky wail that characterized Parlan’s forays on such Mingus works as “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” and “Better Get It In Yo’ Soul.” An all-time Parlan classic, “Wadin’” also gets its first shot as a trio side with the subsequent quintet version garnering a great deal of airplay upon release. Adding Ray Barretto for Headin’ South proves to be a prudent choice, as this set manages to become perhaps one of Parlan’s finest achievements in the piano trio mold. The title track, “Congalegre,” and “Jim Loves Sue” are just a few highlights from this five-star work that has only been available previously on disc in Japan.
Speakin’ My Piece and On the Spur of the Moment
Meanwhile, as the Parlan/Tucker/Harewood trio remained busy as Lou Donaldson’s rhythm section (in addition to taking part in Stanley Turrentine’s Blue Note debut), the impetus came for the addition of both Stanley and his trumpeter brother Tommy to the Parlan group, making for a tremendous but short-lived quintet. Speakin’ My Piece was cut in July of 1960 and makes the most of not only a solid front line but also the compositional skills of Parlan (“Wadin’,” “Up in Cynthia’s Room), Stanley Turrentine (“Borderline”), Tommy Turrentine (“Rastus”) and Leon Mitchell (“Oh So Blue”). As good as it is, On the Spur of the Moment ups the ante even further, with two groovy lines written by Booker Ervin and another by Mitchell. Stanley Turrentine’s spontaneous shouts of “Skoo Chee” at that tune’s conclusion offer palpable evidence of the enthusiasm present at this historic date.
Up & Down and Happy Frame of Mind
A substantial shift in personnel would mark the final two Parlan Blue Note sessions. The first of these, Up & Down makes the most out of the pianist’s past relations with the two lead voices- Booker Ervin and Grant Green. Ervin had worked with the Parlan trio in a cooperative known as The Playhouse Four (this was the house rhythm team at Minton’s Playhouse, thus the title’s reference), while Parlan encountered Green via Stanley Turrentine’s live sets caught on tape at Minton’s. Again, originals make up the program and the results are splendid, although the standout has got to be a lengthy “The Other Part of Town” where Green tears it up over many successive choruses.
Almost two years would go by before Parlan would again enter the Van Gelder studios for Blue Note. Inexplicably, the excellent results as rendered on Happy Frame of Mind would go unreleased and unheard until 1976. Every thing about this date is perfection in practice, from the great flow of the material to the inspired choice of sidemen, including Johnny Coles, Booker Ervin, Grant Green, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins. Standouts among a top-shelf selection of tunes would have to be “Home is Africa” with its repeating bass line and Randy Weston’s “Kucheza Blues,” which Parlan distills into a funky masterpiece (talk about “movin’ and groovin’”!).
Although his post Blue Note period would find him working with Roland Kirk and Gerry Mulligan, Parlan would ultimately opt for a career abroad, moving to Denmark in 1972. Over the years, he has recorded for SteepleChase and worked in a duo format with Archie Shepp, yet his Blue Note recordings remain his crowning achievement and it’s hoped that their presentation here will be the stimulus for discovery by future jazz generations. Mosaic’s presentation includes 24-bit remastering and a 12 x 12 box that includes a 16-page booklet. Photos come from the actual session photography of Francis Wolff and session-by-session annotation is provided by Bob Blumenthal. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.Collective