November 2008

Oliver Nelson Sextet - The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Impulse!/Speakers Corner AS-5
Format: LP
Originally released: 1961
Reissue released: 2007

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Sonny Rollins - East Broadway Run Down
Impulse!/Speakers Corner AS-9121
Format: LP
Originally released: 1966
Reissue released: 2007

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Marc Mickelson

Sports teams sign big-name players to put themselves on the map and people in the seats. Shortly after he founded Impulse! Records in 1960, Creed Taylor signed his own heavy hitter in John Coltrane. So important was Coltrane's arrival to the success of Impulse! that the label's nickname became "The house that Trane built." But the rest of the roster was nearly as distinguished, with Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, and Johnny Hartman all releasing records during the 1960s.

Here from Speakers Corner we have one of the most-beloved Impulse! releases along with a collection from the label's other saxophone colossus. It's impossible to peruse the roster of 1961's The Blues and the Abstract Truth and not see a potential classic. Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes were all headliners and all at the height of their musical powers. The "Blues" of the title was not an overt musical theme, but conveyed most prominently through "Yearnin'." The arrangement and playing on "Stolen Moments" would prove to be important ingredients in some timeless jazz. Dolphy's idiosyncrasies are in full bloom on "Teenie's Blues," which would have been right at home on his Out to Lunch. Oliver Nelson was well known as a big-band arranger, but The Blues and the Abstract Truth would prove that his very best work was with a sextet, to which he contributed his own playing on tenor sax.

East Broadway Run Down came later in the '60s, 1966 to be exact, and its three numbers, which range in length from a little over five minutes to more than 20, were indicative of what had happened in the intervening years. The post-bop avant garde sense of rhythm, time and melody would begin to show its influence. Freddie Hubbard is here again, along with Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, both fixtures in John Coltrane's quartet. This is challenging music, expansive in every way, with solos that are more intellectual than lyrical. Rollins wasn't John Coltrane, but he certainly was a major figure -- Koby Bryant to Coltrane's Shaquille O'Neal.

As usual, Speakers Corner has aced the presentation, with vinyl that's hushed down into the grooves and nicely reproduced glossy covers. The stereo separation can be extreme, as was the rule of the day recording-wise. East Broadway Run Down takes the prize for its slightly greater transient speed and bite.

A Love Supreme, John Coltrane's seminal masterwork, hit the streets in 1964, in between the release of these two LPs. Speakers Corner offers it in its ever-growing catalog, along with many other Impulse! reissues.