When I first started going to hear live jazz more than 30 years ago, I caught a group called the States/McFadden trio in a small bar in Lancaster, PA, about an hour from guitarist Eddie McFaddens hometown of Philadelphia. I did a search on Google for McFadden, who played on Jimmy Smiths House Party and The Sermon, as well as many other great records, and came up with very little information. How could a musician who played on two key albums in jazz history be simply forgotten? That is the premise of Talking House Records Blueprints of Jazz series, which brings us new recordings by great musicians who should not simply fade into history.
Vol. 1 in this series belongs to Mike Clark, who is best known for his work with Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters. Clarks sextet here includes Christian McBride on bass and Patrice Rushen on piano; the three are a formidable rhythm section. Clark is eager to demonstrate his abilities beyond the funk and fusion that secured his reputation, and the music on this recording is hard-swinging, with Clark, Rushen, and McBride giving the front line -- Christian Scott (trumpet), Donald Harrison (alto), and Jed Levy (tenor) -- rock-solid support. One of the best tunes on the disc, "10th Ave. 1957," has an old-New Orleans-blues feel, while "Past Lives" evokes traditional Jewish folk music, and "Thanks Len" sounds like classic '60s Blue Note. The compositional variety here does not prevent the disc from sounding coherent or flowing together naturally. It does give Clark and all the players ample room to demonstrate their varied talents.
Tenor player Billy Harper has appeared on recordings by Gil Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Max Roach, among many others, and has an extensive discography, although its been eight years since his last recording as a leader, Soul of an Angel. His septet on Blueprints of Jazz Vol. 2 includes two bassists and the wonderfully soulful pianist Francesca Tanksley. John Coltrane is a touchstone here. Harpers "Africa Revisited" is an adaptation of Coltranes "Africa" and includes a spoken-word history of jazz by poet Amiri Baraka that continues on the next track, "Knowledge of Self." Harper and the other two horn players, Keyon Harrold (trumpet, French horn) and Charles McNeal (alto sax), mesh tightly throughout the leaders complex compositions, which are moving evocations of the history, culture, and spirituality of African-Americans. The deep well of religious felling that underpins the disc is apparent in Harpers vocal performance in "Amazing Grace" and, in fact, with each impassioned note he and his band play.
Drummer Donald Bailey played with McFadden on the Jimmy Smith sides I mentioned, and over the years he played with Lee Morgan, Bobby Timmons, Blue Mitchell and many other jazz greats. Now aged 75, Bailey still plays drums every day, and his contribution to the Blueprints series is not the soul jazz he played with Smith. "Ive always been drawn to dissonance," Bailey says in the liner notes, and the music on his CD is more outside than Smiths. The drummer's quartet here includes tenor saxophonist Odean Pope, another talented but unsung figure and a blistering player whose edgy tone combines aggression and beauty. Pianist George Butler is a fluid and searching soloist whose occasional percussive accompaniment is an exciting counterpoint to Baileys. The group is rounded out by bassist Tyrone Brown, and on two tracks Charles Tolliver joins them. But its Bailey who holds this sometimes difficult music together with a steady hand and a sure sense of how to encourage and support the other players. He plays with the energy, skill, and conviction of a man half his age.
GO BACK TO: