THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL ELVIN JONES by Eric Novod



     Elvin Jones, artwork by Michael Symonds

While Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Max Roach and others all lent a hand in creating and sustaining the art of four-limb jazz independence on the drum kit, the traditional role of each limb remained fairly intact in each of their (greatly varied) playing styles. Without sacrificing historical respect for these drumming pioneers, Elvin Jones rather efficiently shattered those traditional roles. Following Jones’s arrival on the scene, all four limbs were free to play on any beat, at any volume, in any order, at any time. Other jazz musicians soon discovered that interacting with Elvin Jones revealed a new realm of improvisatory possibilities.

This rhythmic freedom doesn’t mean that Jones’s playing was over-experimental or chaotic. Sure, at times he played a lot of complex patterns and played them very loudly. But at other times he did not. Elvin only exercised his option to free himself from traditional patterns if he deemed it necessary to develop a spontaneous musical moment. One never really knew what sounds would be created from behind Elvin’s kit from whisper-soft timekeeping to a deep Latin groove to a multilayered, polyrhythmic fill followed by colossal ride cymbal crashes that reverberated for days. But one thing was for certain his choices were always determined by his impeccable instinct to provide the support that his soloing bandmates desired. Jones always knew when (and to what level of intensity) to push a soloist and when to lay back and allow him to create a statement on his own. It just so happens that, especially after his tenure in the “Classic Coltrane Quartet,” most players wanted that little extra push from Elvin Jones.

Here are 12 tracks spanning the majority of Elvin’s career. It is no coincidence that most of these sessions were led by saxophonists. While Elvin participated in groups led by other instrumentalists (Miles Davis, Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, et al.), he spent most of his musical time playing with nearly every major post-Bird jazz saxophonist: Sonny Rollins, Pepper Adams, Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Stanley Turrentine, Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Joe Farrell, Art Pepper, Pharoah Sanders, Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker.


Sonny Rollins (featuring Elvin Jones): A Night in Tunisia

Track

A Night in Tunisia (evening take)

Artist

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax)

CD

A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note)

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Musicians:

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Wilbur Ware (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Dizzy Gillespie

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Recorded: live at the Village Vanguard, New York, November 3, 1957

Albumcoversonnyrollinsvangaurdone

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

In the late 1940s and early '50s, a young Elvin Jones performed on a handful of impressive recording sessions, including a Miles Davis date (with Charles Mingus on bass) and work with Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, and Elvin's brother Thad Jones. It was this legendary pianoless trio showcase, however, that truly propelled Elvin into his first-call position.

Many of Jones's strongholds are on display in this 9-minute track: his heavy, laid-back Latin groove, his powerful ride-cymbal pattern that often accentuates the final beat instead of the first (ding ding-DA, ding ding-DA instead of DING ding-da DING ding-da), and his rapid-fire over-the-barline triplet fills effortlessly executed while simultaneously maintaining his unique ride-cymbal pattern. While Jones would go on to develop and perfect many of these characteristics over the course of his career, his experimentation here (without another comping rhythm-section member) is the perfect introduction to the Elvin Jones trademarks that had already begun modifying the vocabulary of the jazz drummer.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Steve Lacy (featuring Elvin Jones): Four in One

Track

Four in One

Artist

Steve Lacy (soprano sax)

CD

Reflections (OJCCD 063-2)

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Musicians:

Steve Lacy (soprano sax), Mal Waldron (piano), Buell Neidlinger (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 17, 1958

Albumcoverstevelacy-reflections

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

After a Roy Haynes/Max Roach-influenced drum break to open "Four in One," Elvin Jones declares his singular presence with his multi-layered approach of building broken-triplets (with his snare and bass drums) on top of his complete cymbal/hi-hat pattern (00:07). Elvin (and his many talented disciples) play this pattern so often that it's easy to forget how much skill it requires. Note the brief yet revealing polyrhythmic fill that giftedly turns the beat around at the conclusion of Lacy's improvisation (2:20-2:23). This is just a glimpse of the heightened focus on polyrhythm that would increasingly define Jones's playing. Also note Elvin's energetic, "try-to-find-beat-one!" fills during the fours section at the tune's conclusion.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Lee Konitz (featuring Elvin Jones): You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To

Track

You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To

Artist

Lee Konitz (alto sax)

CD

Motion (Verve 314 557 107-2)

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Musicians:

Lee Konitz (alto sax), Elvin Jones (drums),

Sonny Dallas (bass)

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Composed by Cole Porter

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Recorded: New York, August 29, 1961

Albumcoverlkonitzmotion

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Lee Konitz and Elvin Jones at first might not seem like a match made in heaven. Konitz's spacious, cerebral choices certainly contrast in style with Jones's sustained intensity. Yet after listening to just the first minute of this 10-minute track, it all makes perfect sense. Konitz presents his lines and leaves room for Jones to respond to the point where solo sections sound more like trading fours and eights than a single musician's statement. It is also quite interesting to compare Elvin in this pianoless trio setting with Sonny Rollins's likewise-pianoless trio from four years earlier. In the interim, 1957's exciting, new, rough-around-the-edges ideas have become a masterfully refined personal style. Notice the addition of another Jones feature here: the doubling of certain parts of triplets between his snare drum and bass drum (01:25-01:30).

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Yusef Lateef (featuring Elvin Jones): Water Pistol

Track

Water Pistol

Artist

Yusef Lateef (tenor sax)

CD

Into Something (Prestige/OJC CD 700)

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Musicians:

Yusef Lateef (tenor sax), Elvin Jones (drums),

Barry Harris (piano), Herman Wright (bass)

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Composed by Yusef Lateef

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 29, 1961

Albumcoveryuseflateef-intosomething

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

The fours and eights traded by Yusef Lateef and Elvin Jones towards the end of this track make it the bolt-from-the-blue nominee for Finest Elvin Jones Performance. The clarity of ideas and cleanliness of their execution (of some extremely difficult phrases) feature just about every Jones trait in less than two minutes (03:10-04:53). Two specific highlights include: the complex repeated opening statement from 03:14-03:21 (notice the inclusion of his hi-hat foot in the smallest of musical spaces), and the flawless run of 16th-note triplets from 04:07 to 04:16. This brief trading section is an example of a first-rate track on a first-rate record. "When You're Smiling," "I'll Remember April" and "Koko's Tune" are other Lateef/Jones highlights from this undervalued 1961 session.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Wayne Shorter (featuring Elvin Jones): Juju

Track

Juju

Artist

Wayne Shorter (tenor sax)

CD

Juju (Blue Note 4182)

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Musicians:

Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Wayne Shorter

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 3, 1964

Albumcoverwayneshorter-juju

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Elvin Jones's superior use of tension-building, repeated triplets works especially well in tunes in 3/4 time. While some drummers feel less comfortable in this time signature and stick to repetitive waltz patterns, Jones's over-the-barline triplets that conclude with an occasional, powerful "bomb" result in open, playful 3/4 grooves that remind listeners of anything but a traditional jazz waltz.

This Wayne Shorter composition is a primary example of Jones's experimentation within a 3/4 framework. Notice the nontraditional rim-clicks and hi-hat foot used to build tension here. While these two elements are usually the most static part of a jazz groove, Jones varies his rim-click attacks and alternates them with snare drum hits to create contrasting textures within the groove. And because there are choices to be made as to where to place the hi-hat foot downbeat in 3/4 time anyway, Jones constantly moves the hi-hat foot around, adding a rolling and tumbling aspect to his already unpredictable groove.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


John Coltrane (featuring Elvin Jones): Pursuance

Track

Pursuance

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

A Love Supreme (Impulse A 77)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 9, 1964

Albumcoverjohncoltranealovesupreme

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

An extended unaccompanied solo by Elvin Jones opens "Pursuance," the 10-minute, up-tempo third movement of A Love Supreme. Attempting to bridge the gap between hard bop, bebop and free jazz with a sustained musical intensity derived from Coltrane's spiritual ambition, Jones's solo is powerfully free while preserving the phrasing of a traditional drum solo. An extended Tyner solo commences when the drum solo concludes, featuring a classic example of the Elvin-&-McCoy build with their simultaneous blurring of barline after barline. As with most Tyner/Jones interactions, this ends with the quarter-note triplet figure leading to Trane's sublime reentry. All four musicians then blend beautifully at an amazingly intense level until Coltrane, Tyner and Jones exit to allow for Jimmy Garrison's solo. An ultimate classic performance of the Classic Coltrane Quartet.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


John Coltrane (featuring Elvin Jones): Sun Ship

Track

Sun Ship

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Sun Ship (Impulse 9211)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: New York, August 26, 1965

Albumcoverjohncoltrane-sunship

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The legendary A Love Supreme, aside from its reputation as one of the most important moments in the history of modern jazz, also acted to foreshadow the future of the Classic Coltrane Quartet. While the extremes to which Coltrane would soon take his free improvisations ultimately resulted in the inevitable exit of Jones and Tyner in early 1966, there are post-Supreme examples of an intermediary Classic Quartet that represent some of their strongest group playing, from Transition to First Meditations to Sun Ship. There is some fascinating listening to be done on this title track Jones's playing during Tyner's improvisation can fit into many previous, less experimental Coltrane recordings. Coltrane's insistence on pushing himself into new directions, however, alters Jones's playing during their interactions here. It's hard to tell exactly how comfortable Jones is, but the Trane/Elvin interplay is nonetheless boundary-pushing and edge-of-your-seat exciting.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Larry Young (featuring Elvin Jones): Monk's Dream

Track

Monk's Dream

CD

Unity (Blue Note 4221)

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Musicians:

Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) (organ), Elvin Jones (drums), Woody Shaw (trumpet), Joe Henderson (tenor sax).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, November 10, 1965

Albumcoverlarryyoung-unity

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The complexities of Elvin Jones's drumming style are superbly communicated throughout "Monk's Dream." He is playing many of his rapid-fire polyrhythmic runs and multilayered comping ideas honed in John Coltrane's group, yet both tempo and energy are more relaxed on this grooving Monk composition. Therefore, while it's easy for Jones's phenomenal ideas to whiz right by your ears (and brain!) throughout the intensity that was the Coltrane Quartet, many of the same ideas are presented more clearly, but no less impressively, on this second Larry Young record. On a completely different level, it's also pleasing to hear Elvin lay back and play a simple groove with an organist, his deep pocket but light touch creating a perfect foundation for Young's layering.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Elvin Jones: Gingerbread Boy

Track

Gingerbread Boy

Artist

Elvin Jones (drums)

CD

Puttin' it Together (Blue Note 4282)

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Musicians:

Elvin Jones (drums), Joe Farrell (tenor sax), Jimmy Garrison (bass).

Composed by Jimmy Heath

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 8, 1968

Albumcoverelvinjones-puttinittogether

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

In just about as contrasting a gig as one can get, Elvin Jones spent two weeks touring Europe with Duke Ellington after departing from John Coltrane's group. A brief run as the house drummer at the Blue Note Paris ensued, at which point the time arose for Elvin to assemble a longstanding group as a leader. He chose to return to the pianoless trio format la his gigs with Sonny Rollins (1957) and Lee Konitz (1961). This time around, Jones chose fellow Coltrane alumnus Jimmy Garrison as bassist and Joe Farrell to play tenor and soprano saxes and flute. These two sensitive players allowed Elvin total rhythmic control to display his post-Trane technical prowess. Elvin's playing at this stage of his career was at a frighteningly high level so much so that he himself has referred to this record as one of his very best. Note the many classic bop fills that are "Elvinized" on this track through the use of added notes with unexpected limbs and the starting or ending of fills on off-beats.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Joe Lovano (featuring Elvin Jones): Impressionistic

Track

Impressionistic

Artist

Joe Lovano (tenor sax)

CD

Trio Fascination, Edition One (Blue Note 33114)

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Musicians:

Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Elvin Jones (drums), Dave Holland (bass).

Composed by Joe Lovano

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Recorded: New York, September 16-17, 1997

Albumcoverjoelovano-triofascination-editionone

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Performing in the pianoless trio format, Elvin Jones's playing on this track is precisely what its title suggests the free-form melody allows Jones to poke and prod at his trio colleagues with brushstrokes on his spacious ride cymbal and snare drum. The drum solo that begins at 04:35 and lasts until 05:15 marks one of his finest late-career unaccompanied solos it is uncluttered and logical, yet still includes many facets of his solo style, from dramatic tom rolls to "cymbal-to-drums-and-back-to-cymbal-again" patterns (05:04). When Lovano reenters at a faster tempo, one senses that Jones is energized by Lovano's playing. Jones, always prepared to move, starts pulling out more and more classic stops as the improvisation reaches its climax.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Dewey Redman (featuring Elvin Jones): Spoonin'

Track

Spoonin'

Artist

Dewey Redman (tenor sax)

CD

Momentum Space (Verve 314 559 944-2)

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Musicians:

Dewey Redman (tenor sax), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Dewey Redman

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Recorded: New York, August 4-5, 1998

Albumcoverdeweyredman-momentumspace

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Momentum Space, a trio date featuring Dewey Redman, Elvin Jones and Cecil Taylor, features more solo and duet tracks than actual trio interaction. While two tracks feature all three members, the remaining tracks include an unaccompanied solo from each, a Redman-Taylor duet, and this playful 7-minute duet between Jones and Redman. While it's far too easy to write off this track by comparing it to some of Jones's historical duets with Trane, there is a lot of fun, relaxed playing here. Each musician seems to be patiently waiting for the other to present an idea worth tangling and untangling before moving on in search of their next interactive moment.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Bill Frisell (featuring Elvin Jones): Moon River

Track

Moon River

Artist

Bill Frisell (guitar)

CD

Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Nonesuch 79624)

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Musicians:

Bill Frisell (guitar), Elvin Jones (drums), Dave Holland (bass).

Composed by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer

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Recorded: New York, 2000

Albumcoverbillfrisellwithdavehollandandelvinjones

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The hectic schedules of these three master players prevented them from having much time to track this record live in the studio. Taking live tracks from Holland and Jones, Frisell overdubbed many layers of acoustic and electric guitars to create an interesting amalgam of spontaneous, unrehearsed interplay and careful, atmospheric arranging. While a few of the tracks seem forced, all three musicians are consistently superb. "Moon River" features Jones's delicate yet self-assured brushwork executing the triplet runs that listeners are used to hearing played with sticks (at a much higher decibel level). While Elvin used brushes on many tracks throughout his career, few performances display his mastery of brush playing as this does one of his most subdued and mature performances.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


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