Pairing purveyors of two distinct strains of traditional jazz this Fantasy two-fer is something of textbook study of the piano styles inherent in each. Cliff Jackson, the elder of the two, is representative of the first generation of Harlem Stride pianists. His group takes the disc’s final four cuts and contains several legends of the music’s fledgling years including brassman Ed Allen and banjoist Elmer Snowden. Dick Wellstood was part of the first trad jazz revival during the early 1940s and a date by his group the Wallerites (named in homage of Fats himself) fills up the first three tracks. Sandwiched between the two dates is a third earlier one from Wellstood, featuring the pianist in the lone company of drummer Tommy Benford’s supple brushes.
Wellstood’s band stretches out beyond the usual time limits of most traditional New Orleans music on record and the added space is used judiciously. Relaxed ensemble sections give way to thoughtful solo musings, mostly from the leader’s sparkling syncopated keystrokes, but from his partners as well. The incredibly versatile Milt Hinton anchors the rhythmic end with his characteristic elegance and the esteemed Zutty Singleton holds modest court from behind his kit. Of the trio of numbers, Wellstood’s own “Blook’s Dues” stands out, a loping blues forwarded on snare rolls, throbbing bass and melancholy horns with cerulean solos from everyone involved. Several of the pianist’s duets with Benford are virtually solo outings with the drummer providing only light, unobtrusive accompaniment. But tracks like “Mule Walk” and “Liza” are notable exceptions where whisking brushes goad Wellstood to ever increasing speed and double-fisted syncopation, juggling contrasting tempos with adroit skill.
Jackson’s group may hold the disc’s closing slot, but his performances prove every bit as engaging as those of his younger neighbor. Arrangements are minimal, shifting emphasis to ensemble improvisation, and the band responds in kind. “The Sheik of Araby” contains a wealth of clever elements from Casey’s simple scritch-scratch washboard rhythm to Allen’s muted run down of the melody. Casey’s asthmatic kazoo takes a rare turn on “Blues in Englewood Cliffs” giving way to Snowden’s sparse rustic banjo plucks, which accompany the lazy drawl of Powell’s dusky reed. Jackson sits at the core of it all peeling off firm stride runs with gusto and panache that is both affirming and celebratory. Considered in its component parts as well as a unified whole this is indeed a tasty collection of traditional New Orleans inspired music.
Prestige on the web: http://www.fantasyjazz.com
Track Listing: Yacht Club Swing/ Brush Lightly/ Blook
Personnel: Dick Wellstood- piano; Herman Autry- trumpet; Gene Sedric- clarinet, tenor saxophone; Milt Hinton- bass; Zutty Singleton- drums; Tommy Benford- drums; Cliff Jackson- piano* Ed Allen- trumpet*; Rudy Powell- clarinet*; Elmer Snowden- banjo*; Abe Bolar- bass*; Floyd Casey- washboard, kazoo*. Recorded: July 27, 1961, July 20, 1961* and October 25, 1954.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.