Booker Ervin: Number Two
Booker Ervin (tenor sax)
The Space Book (Prestige P-7386)
Richard Davis (bass), Alan Dawson (drums).
Composed by Booker Ervin.
Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 2, 1964
Rating: 91/100 (learn more)
By the time this album was recorded in 1964, tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin had achieved some renown as a member of the extraordinary Charles Mingus group that also included multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy and trumpeter Ted Curson. That band is said to have been Mingus's answer to Ornette Coleman's revolutionary quartet. Certainly Mingus's music was then heavily influenced by the intensely melodic, harmonically ambiguous music made by Coleman. While not an experimentalist originally, Ervin's concept evolved while a member of the Mingus ensemble. On performances such as this one, Ervin garnished his earthy straight-ahead concept with some of the openness favored by the free players, with excellent results.
"Number Two" seemingly attempts to evoke the outer-space zeitgeist implied by the album's title. Indeed, pianist Jaki Byard's introductory whole-tone motive sounds like something one might hear on the soundtrack to an episode of Lost in Space. The tempo burns. Drummer Alan Dawson's dancing ride cymbal is simultaneously a catalyst and the music's central organizing element. Byard and bassist Richard Davis treat the descending chord sequence with an air of casual relevance. Both stretch the harmonies as far as they dare without having it snap back in their faces. Ervin adheres more closely to the structure, but he's not overly beholden to it, from either a harmonic or rhythmic standpoint. His attack is characteristically hard-bitten, his forward momentum unrelenting. Ervin's type of "free" is based more on an embrace of conventional harmony and bebop rhythms than is Coleman's. As a consequence, it is not as striking. The way he combines a hard-bop tenor sensibility with free jazz elements is unique, however, and often very compelling in its own right. For the '60s jazz listener who found Coleman's music daunting, this music might have served as a gateway to freedom—slightly experimental, yet retaining the gospel/blues essence that made hard bop so attractive.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey