Sonny Criss: Sunny




Sonny Criss (alto sax)


Up, Up and Away (Original Jazz Classics 982-2)

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Sonny Criss (alto sax), Tal Farlow (guitar), Cedar Walton (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass),

Lenny McBrowne (drums)


Composed by Bobby Hebb


Recorded: New York, August 18, 1967


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

It was a shock to the many loyal fans of Sonny Criss when he took his own life at age 50 in 1977, just as he was about to begin his first tour of Japan. How could this uplifting, spirited altoist have committed such an act? It wasn't until years later in a 1988 Jazz Times article that Sonny's mother revealed that her son had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and could no longer deal with the pain. In the late '60s, Criss was using his soulful, luscious tone, polished technique, masterful sense of form, overflowing wealth of ideas, and a natural rhythmic flexibility, to record infectious versions of tunes of the day such as "Eleanor Rigby," "The Beat Goes On," "Ode to Billie Joe," "Misty Roses," "I'll Catch the Sun," "Up, Up and Away" and "Sunny."

Bobby Hebb wrote "Sunny" in a purging reaction to both JFK's assassination in 1963 and the coincidental murder of his brother the very next day. Ella Fitzgerald recorded it, as did Sinatra with Ellington, among the many covers of Hebb's own 1966 hit. Criss perfectly captures the earnest innocence of this love song's lyrics through his horn, yet without compromising his musical integrity. After Walton's perky intro, Criss drives headlong through the melody and right into his scorching solo, which contains exuberant, glittering runs and highly effective bluesy pitch alterations, and just keeps building in intensity. Walton's solo is not nearly as captivating, although he finishes with a flourish that pretty much salvages it. Criss restates the theme with the same vigor as before, fading his ending with a satisfying riff derived from a key phrase of the well-known tune. If you strain hard, you may barely hear guitarist Tal Farlow in the background. Either he didn't know the tune and elected to play sparingly, or he was woefully under-recorded.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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