This is one of those jazz recordings that managed to capture lightning -- that is to say, recording magic -- in a bottle. Its pacing is perfect, its arrangements sublime, and the first-rate players, all of whom would be worth listening to on their worst day, offer inspired work.
Nelson, a fine tenor player in his own right, is surrounded by extraordinary talent: Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes. But this is Nelson's album: not only does he play beautifully himself, he contributed the compositions and the arrangements, all of which have a note-perfect quality that could only be achieved by an artist in absolute command of his material.
Each tune is a joy in its own right, but the highlight for me (just ahead of the joyful "Hoedown") is "Stolen Moments," which has rightfully become a jazz standard. It's a tune that never fails to remind me of the difference between a true jazz composition and a blowing session. In the latter, solos are taken for their own sake. In "Stolen Moments," the solos are flawless, but each player extends on the previous statement. For example, the transition chord that Bill Evans plays between Oliver Nelson's solo and his own is a perfect reply that shows how carefully he was listening to Oliver's playing. The communication deepens the pleasure of listening to the performance.
Like Miles' "Kind of Blue" and a handful of other jazz albums, "Blues and the Abstract Truth" could be put into a vault for listeners a thousand years hence to find. I'm sure they'd be just as impressed as the rest of us have been.