John Lewis: The Golden Striker


The Golden Striker


John Lewis (piano)


The Golden Striker / Jazz Abstractions (Collectables COL-CD-6252)

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John Lewis (piano), George Duvivier (bass),

Gunther Schuller, Albert Richman, Ray Alonge, John Barrows (French horns), Melvyn Broiles, Bernie Glow, Alan Kiger, Joe Wilder (trumpets), Dick Hixson, David Baker (trombones), Harvey Phillips (tuba), Connie Kay (drums)


Composed by John Lewis


Recorded: New York, circa 1960


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

When Gunther Schuller (classical musician with jazz interests) collided with John Lewis (jazzman classically trained), the resulting … not explosion, more a puff of smoke or tempest in a teapot … the result, anyway, was Third Stream Music, a largely forgotten, bastard genre beloved of partisans and certain scribes, but ignored by most gigging musicians and fans. The Third Stream's odd mix of toney instruments, transcribed compositions, jazzy aspirations, and a gruntled measure of swing created works (consider the verb subsumed in that noun) that often seemed as leaden and clangorous as a split cathedral bell.

Still, a few diehards managed to teach the no-jazz straights how to tap their feet, if not actually step out, and Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet was instructor extraordinaire. The brilliant composer of "Django," "La Ronde," "The Cylinder" and other titles Italian and/or geographical could go for Baroque or back to Bop in a New York minute. He had the knack and the smarts, the elegance and the will, to propel (or maybe drag) others in his wake; just think how he managed to keep players as diverse as Milt Jackson and Connie Kay together, and wearing black tuxedoes, for decades.

Away from the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis mostly stuck to conducting/writing for Orchestra U.S.A., the American Jazz Orchestra, and other lightly avant-garde ensembles. But he also recorded a few sterling examples of what Third Stream Music could be under the right conditions, and the most spirited of these is the brass-drenched, stereo-demonstrative Atlantic album The Golden Striker, a wonderful combination of fanfares ŕ la Gabrielli and complex yet swinging longer pieces from the pianist's trick bag, played by a steady mix of jazz cats and classical gassers. The emblematic title track, driven by Duvivier's dancing basslines and Lewis's own Basie-esque piano (minimal notes and maximal pulse), bespeaks a smiling demeanor. Like clock-tower mechanical figures that mark the onward march of the minutes, Lewis's staccato melody alternately halts and surges, striking brass-choir sparks amid the rhythm section's very "timely" five minutes—a dance of the hours as it were, and a fanciful pleasure for both curious hipsters and "serious music" tourists alike.

Reviewer: Ed Leimbacher

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