These Are My Roots: Clifford Jordan Plays Leadbelly is an oft overlooked item in the canon of tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, whose chef d'oeuvre was undoubtedly Glass Bead Games (Strata-East, 1974), one of the most exalted jazz albums of its era. But These Are My Roots, which was originally released on Atlantic in 1965 and has in 2021 been reissued on vinyl by British audiophile label Pure Pleasure, is of more than passing interest.
The hard bop milieu from which Jordan emerged in the late 1950s was in close touch with the music's blues roots, but few hard boppers released albums which were as explicitly immersed in the idiom as this one by Jordan. The ten-track disc consists of nine pieces written by Leadbelly (birth name Huddie Ledbetter) and just one by Jordan. More than that, blues singer Sandra Douglas is featured on two tracks, "Take This Hammer" and "Black Girl." Banjoist Chuck Wayne brings retro authenticity to eight tracks. The rest of the band is top-dollar hard bop: trumpeter Roy Burrowes, trombonist Julian Priester, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Albert Tootie Heath.
Among the handful of Jordan's near contemporaries who got as double-dipped bluesy as Jordan does here was bassist and composer Charles Mingus. So it was great fit when, in 1964, Jordan toured the US and Europe as a member of Mingus' band alongside reed player Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Johnny Coles, pianist Jaki Byard and drummer Dannie Richmond. Fortunately, while on the German leg of the tour, Radio Bremen recorded a two hour performance for broadcast. The concerta stone steamermakes up the first two discs in the 4xCD set Charles Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975, which was released in late 2020 by Sunnyside. The third and fourth discs, recorded in 1975 with Mingus, Richmond, trumpeter Jack Walrath, tenor saxophonist George Adams and pianist Don Pullen, is just as good. The Bremen recordings may only have made it to disc in 2020, but one is prime Jordan and both are essential Mingus.
Side One: Dick’s Holler; Silver City Bound; Take This Hammer; Black Betty; The Highest Mountain. Side Two: Goodnight Irene; De Gray Goose; Black Girl; Jolly O The Ransom; Yellow Girl.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.