Julius Hemphill: Body

As one of the few jazz musicians to play only the cello (as opposed to doubling on bass) Abdul Wadud is equally versed in both classical and jazz styles. Wadud’s resume includes stints with everyone from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to Arthur Blythe. His work reached a particular peak of experimentation on the song “Body” from Julius Hemphill’s 1980 album Flat-Out Jump Suite. Wadud firmly grasps the funky feel of the song by performing with a raw bluesy touch. Wadud’s wide and distinct sound stands out when he plays in unison with Hemphill and Dara. The song goes through several tempos and textures, with Wadud adding slight ornamentations during each change. When the song moves into a swing feel, Abdul goes back and forth between a walking bass line and chordal accompaniment. Though his is the only stringed instrument in the ensemble, his performance is the heart of the song and an excellent addition to contemporary jazz cello style.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves: Salt and Pepper

This 1963 Stitt-Gonsalves encounter should be better known than it is. Stitt, of course, was one of the most prolific recording artists in jazz (nine albums in 1963 alone!), while Gonsalves—although heard widely with Duke Ellington—infrequently recorded as a leader. On tenor, as on this track, Stitt combined Charlie Parker and Lester Young influences, whereas Gonsalves came more out of the Coleman Hawkins school, with a "modern" harmonic approach that once led Dizzy Gillespie to hire him. Their contrasting styles and combative natures make for absorbing listening on the spirited title cut.

The extended blues workout "Salt and Pepper" starts with the two tenors enthusiastically alternating fragments of the theme. Gonsalves then embarks on a solo that lasts a mere 13 choruses, just about half the 27 he so famously played with Ellington at Newport in 1956 during "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." His phrases here are reminiscent of the memorable ones he played at Newport seven years earlier, as Osie Johnson maintains a driving beat similar to Sam Woodyard's back then. As usual, Gonsalves’ tone and inflections have a teasingly dissonant tinge, and his extended runs are refreshingly unpredictable but always, in hindsight, logically formulated. Stitt follows with 15 choruses of his own, replete with rhythmically ebullient lines, trademark riffs, toying pianissimo passages, and gruff shouts. However, Stitt seems to lose momentum midway through his improv, and Johnson drags noticeably in response. When Gonsalves returns for a trading session with Stitt, his sharp instincts and gift for spontaneous formulations appears to put even Stitt on the defensive. Gonsalves is the provoker during most of this section, with Stitt surprisingly the reactor. There's a good reason why Ellington stuck by Gonsalves through thick and thin for 24 years, and it's quite evident once again in the saxophonist's inspired playing on this track.

June 05, 2009 · 0 comments


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