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Format: Audio CD
LITTLE, Booker. Out Front. Candid. Orig., 1961; re-released 1989. BL, tpt; Julian Priester, tbn; Eric Dolphy, alto sx, bss clari, flt; Don Friedman, p; Art Davis, Ron Carter, b; Max Roach, dr, tymp, vib.
CARTER, Ron. Where. Prestige. Orig. 1961; re-released 2008. RC, cello, b; Eric Dolphy, alto sx, bss clari, flt; Mal Waldron, p; George Duvivier, b; Charles Persip, dr.
Here are two albums from the start of the 1960s, an exciting period in jazz with new stylists and new styles of jazz appearing after a dynamic but fairly stable decade and a half of bop. Both albums feature players –Dolphy, above all, but also Little and Carter, Max Roach, Priester, Waldron, Friedman—who were stretching boundaries, and in Dolphy’s case, almost breaking them. Carter was 24 then, Little 23 (and dead that October, never to reach 24), Friedman and Priester 26, Dolphy 32 or 33. Waldron, Roach and Persip were in their mid to late thirties and Duvivier was the old man out at 41. The point is: these were young men and for the most part, this is young men’s music. That explains both some of its strengths and some of its weaknesses.
Let me state with the strengths. These are first-rate musicians –in the cases of Dolphy, maybe Little, certainly Roach and Waldron, brilliant improvisers, and Priester and Friedman don’t fall far behind. Persip was a marvelous drummer and, a near miracle for late bop drummers, he could drum as hard using brushes and he could sticks. Duvivier was a rock solid bassist whose presence had graced albums ranging from the traditional to highly avant garde: if it needed playing, Duvivier could play it.
Notice I haven’t mentioned Ron Carter yet. This was Carter’s first recording as leader. He came to it with a solid rep: he’d played in groups led by Jaki Byard and Chico Hamilton and recorded with Dolphy and Don Ellis. Three years later, he would join the second great Miles Davis quintet (1964-68) with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams. There’s no question that Carter is one of the great bassists of the modern era, but in 1961, he was young and it shows on this album. He chose to play cello across most of the album, leaving the responsibility for maintaining a pulse in Duvivier’s capable hands. As a consequence, there is one strong horn voice –Dolphy, whatever instrument he was playing on a particular piece—to take the lead, with a second voice on bowed cello, and piano underlying both. It’s a weak, muddy sound. Most of Carter’s solo passages are bowed, not plucked, and he did not at that point in his career have a strong, clear, confident cello sound, not when he bowed it, nor did he articulate the moves from note to note cleanly, as he does in later recordings. I’m not opposed to the use of bowed cello in jazz –Oscar Pettiford was a master at it (although he tuned his cello to make its sound brighter). I do object to muddiness and I do prefer crisp articulation. On the one piece where Carter plays plucked bass, I like it. Throughout, Dolphy is masterful –he is such a strong, distinctive player on alto sax and bass clarinet that you forget that he was also a powerhouse flutist. Where isn’t a bad album at all but over all, it hasn’t worn well.
Nor has the brilliant trumpeter Booker Little’s debut album as a leader, Out Front. Out Front sounds like a Max Roach album, just with a different front man. All the tunes were composed and arranged by Little. He showed talent as a composer. As to the arrangements, they’re good but generic –horn heavy intros with three-horn harmony, followed by solos. Roach plays tympani as well as drums and of course he’s good --Max Roach was always good- but the tympani don’t fit as well here as they did, for instance, on “Bemsha Swing” on Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. All of the solos are good, and Dolphy’s and Little’s are gooder. Little had a sweet tone. If he had lived, he might have carved out a synthesis of modernism and lyricism, like an avant garde Clifford Brown. That would have been an interesting contrast to the trumpet playing of New Sound trumpeters like the two Dons, Ayler and Cherry. As it is, we have a handful of albums ranging from good to quite good to remind us of what we lost when Booker Little succumbed to uremic poisoning at the age of twenty-three.