Kenny Clarke 1948-50 – Classics Records

Kenny Clarke 1948-50 – Classics Records 1214, 56:46 [Distr. by Albany] ***:

(Kenny Clarke – drums; Milt Jackson – vibes; Howard McGhee – trumpet; Jessie Powell – tenor sax; Jimmy Heath alto sax; John Lewis – piano; Billy Mitchell – tenor sax; Percy Heath – bass; Hubert Fol – tenor sax; Julius Watkins – French horn)

Drummers have often been described as the most important member of any jazz aggregation large or small, and that is because they can never lay out. Whether the drummer was good, bad, or indifferent they were the time-keepers. Kenny Clarke was a drummer who changed the style of jazz drumming as he began to keep time by using his ride cymbal, instead of the hi-hat or snare drum, and then brought the bass drum in only for accents.

At the time of these recordings 1948-50, Kenny Clarke had been in Europe with the Dizzy Gillespie Band and decided to stay for a period, which eventually lasted for two years, with a short stay back in the US. The several formations that are on display are mixed bag. There were US musicians who had come to Europe with either their own bands or as part of another group. Some were French musicians of varying quality who wanted to play with a top-notch drummer, and finally there were a half dozen tracks with Clarke’s  own sextet which he fronted when he returned to the US for his brief sojourn.

Howard McGhee who was in Paris to attend a jazz festival with his own band, is featured on the first couple of tracks, and he is in scintillating form especially on his own composition “Maggie’s Draw”. Percy Heath’s full-toned bass opens and closes “Out Of Nowhere” with pianist John Lewis comping in the background. As an interesting side note, three of four member of the original Modern Jazz Quartet (Lewis/Heath/Clarke) were on this session.

Next up was the Kenny Clarke sextet which had several standout players in Milt Jackson on vibes, Billy Mitchell on tenor sax, and Kenny Dorham on trumpet. Jackson was featured on vibes on the lovely ballad “You Go To My Head” and while you might expect him to be on the same instrument for Kenny Clarke’s original “Roll ‘Em Bags” (Bags was Milt Jackson’s nickname) he is instead on piano, and acquits himself with flair.

As for the balance of the disc, the results are mixed. The French jazz musicians are mostly unknowns and unfamiliar names to North American audiences. Alto saxophonist Hubert Fol is top quality as well as bassist Pierre Michelot. Fol can be heard to good effect on “Robbin’s Nest” and Michelot shows his strong tone on “Out Of Nowhere”. The final two cuts: “I’ll Get You Yet” and “Be A Good Girl” feature a couple of American expatriates: James Moody on tenor sax and Gerald Wiggins on piano. While mostly unremarkable, the solos by Moody and Wiggins on both pieces generate enthusiasm.

Kenny Clarke’s participation in these sessions was a precursor to his joining the initial iteration of the Modern Jazz Quartet which lasted from 1951 to 1955. In 1956 Clarke returned to Paris where he made his home until his death in 1985. While this offering is not great, it is nevertheless interesting because of the impact that he had on the Paris jazz scene very shortly after  the end of the war in 1945. [Julius Watkins’ French horn solos are terrific…Ed.]

TrackList: Maggie’s Draw; Annel; Out Of Nowhere; I’m In The Mood For Love; Conglomeration; Bruz; You Go To My Head; Roll ‘Em Bags; Don’t Blame Me; Hey, Frenchy; Love In The Sun; Iambic Pentameter; Assy Pan Assy; Robbin’s Nest; These Foolish Things; These Foolish Strings; Those Fol-ish Things; Out Of Nowhere; I’ll Get You Yet; Be A Good Girl

—Pierre Giroux

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