Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shining Silver

Was the government slipping something into the water supply in 1959? Or was it something that only jazz musicians were drinking? Let's just say it was a zeitgeist thing; change was in the air and the excitement of it all was energizing all the best players. The great Horace Silver wasn't among the cutting edge artists of the time, but if he wasn't shaking things up in the manner of Miles, Coltrane, Mingus, Brubeck, and Ornette, he was certainly honing his special artistry to a rare level of achievement. This edition of his rip-roaring hard bop ensemble was among his best. Saxophonist Jr. Cook and trumpeter Blue Mitchel get only a slice of solo time yet they make the most of it, not by cramming in all they can and racing to a blistering climax, but by constructing cogent statements that impressive through judicious concision. The leader then jumps in and stretches out, constructing a brick-by-brick improvisation that's a model of near abstract funk. His left hand never wavers from the monstrous vamp while compact melodic phrases build one on top of another, spelled by crazy quotations and off-kilter traps that the pianist seems to be setting for himself. Cliches, delightfully employed, are set against twisted phrases that suggest the ruminations of a very funky four-year-old let loose on the family keyboard. And what about the steaming groove that drummer Louis Hayes and the underrated bassist Doug Watkins lay down? Yes, '59 was a very good year.

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