J.J. Johnson (with Clifford Brown): Turnpike (alternate take)
Turnpike (alternate take)
Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings (Blue Note CDP 7243 8 34197 2 2)
Composed by J.J. Johnson.
Recorded: New York City, June 22, 1953
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
June of 1953 was a very busy and prolific month for Clifford Brown. Having recently left the Blue Flames, he was working a steady summer show job with Tadd Dameron at the Club Paradise in Atlantic City. Whilst spending a great deal of time performing as a part of this revue’s band, he found opportunity to record three very important albums in his discography—his first professional jazz dates. The first was a session that he co-led with altoist Lou Donaldson for Blue Note on June 9th, promptly followed by a Prestige session with the Tadd Dameron band on June 11th. Dameron had tagged Brown as the worthy successor to ‘Fats’ Navarro a year prior, but the session he scheduled at that time didn’t materialize. The third was this session with bebop trombone great Jay Jay Johnson, tenor man Jimmy Heath and the rhythm section for the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Jimmy Heath, who hired Clifford for some of his club dates following Brown’s recovery from his 1950 car accident, remembers that on this song in particular, Johnson ended up doing multiple takes because he had developed certain ideas that he wanted to get on the record. On every take, Clifford did something fresh, creative and exciting, especially on the fast-moving cycle of fourths sequence in the tune, and the Blue Note people (namely Alfred Lion) signed him for a leader session on the spot. That session would take place a month later.
“Turnpike” is an up-tempo ‘rhythm changes’ tune which employs a 4-bar cyclic sequence during the solos on the first 4 bars of each A section. The trumpet has the lead on the introduction and melody (Heath on baritone sax), and some poor intonation and a delay in the entry of the melody might have been the reason why this didn’t end up as the master take. However, the playing is so exciting that it certainly needed to be saved. The head consists of mostly one repeated note with a few tonicizing embellishments on the A sections. Johnson improvises the bridge and my, what solid time he has! A series of two-chorus solos follows with the characteristic cycle employed on each player’s second chorus. Brownie has the first and spins out a series of shorter phrases (and a few long ones!) that are logical and balanced. He nails the cycle sequence—one of the reasons I chose the alternate was to demonstrate the mastery that the Blue Note folks recognized in Clifford. Heath is next on tenor, and plays an exciting solo, though he has a bit of an issue with the time on his initial cycle sequences. J.J. opens with a “Rhythm-a-ning” quote and performs his material with the utmost grace and ease. Lewis’s two choruses begin with a tension-building pedal point and, during the head out, a variant of the melody trades with the drums, the bass walks the bridge, and the tune winds up abruptly. This is small group jazz at its finest with Clarke and Percy Heath in outstanding form, both providing a swinging foundation.
Aside from earning Brown a Blue Note leader date, this session had a more important, farther-reaching implication. Max Roach possessed this recording and, when he was considering trumpet players for his new group in early 1954, he favored Clifford because of this album. He was enamored by Brown’s fat sound, mentioning specifically Brownie’s cup-muted work on John Lewis’s “Sketch One.” “It was like ‘Fats’ Navarro with an edge,” he recalled.
Reviewer: Al Hood