Alvin Queen – Mighty Long Way – Justin Time/Enja JTR 8549-2, 65:52 ****:
(Alvin Queen, drums; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Jesse Davis, alto sax; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Mike LeDonne, Hammond B-3 organ; Neil Clarke, conga and percussion; Elias Bailey, bass on #4 & 8)
Back with much of the same group that drove 2007’s I Ain’t Looking at You, which we reviewed in April 2007, Alvin Queen seems to know the secret to the success of a soul jazz/ hard bop winner-surround yourself with top shelf young talent, then let them loose playing a mixture of stone classics (Cape Verdean Blues, I Got a Woman, Backyard Blues) and some new compositions by band members and their leader. Queen has had a long and varied career playing behind a diverse mixture of jazz talents – i.e., Charles Tolliver, Stanley Turrentine, Sweets Edison, Junior Mance to just name a few. He was also savvy enough to head to Europe during much of the 70s and 80s, when jazz was largely ignored in the States. Unlike his previous Enja release, which was recorded in Spain, this time Alvin recorded Mighty Long Way in New York in March, 2008.
Returning with funkmeisters LeDonne and Bernstein to lay down the groove, Queen is set up again to succeed. He explores his gospel roots with Joe Pace’s Mighty Long Way and Let us Go Into the House. Jesse Davis wails on the title track followed by the swaggering trumpet of Terell Stafford, and blues licks of Peter Bernstein. We immediately know we are heading in the right direction, and LeDonne’s Hammond B-3 reminds us that the roots Queen is exploring come from the corner church and the soulful church choir.
Queen played drums for the late Oscar Peterson during the final years of Peterson’s career, and Alvin honors Oscar’s memory with Sushi, and Backyard Blues. Jesse Davis is featured on Sushi and LeDonne and Bernstein highlight the latter. Queen also spent some time with Horace Silver and his percussive drumming was a keen match for Silver’s compositions. Queen has chosen Cape Verdean Blues from Horace and the Caribbean beat laid down here by Neil Clarke and Queen, churn out island rhythms for Stafford and Davis to play off.
Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman and Wayne Shorter’s United, provide further proof that Queen’s roots are found in the church Alvin attended with his father in Mount Vernon, thirty miles north of New York City. The CD’s liner notes mention that Saturdays back then were spent in Harlem for haircuts and visits to the Apollo Theater for jazz and rhythm and blues. Queen learned his lessons well.
His much younger band mates honor Queen and his influences also, as with Jesse Davis’ Blues on Q – check out both Davis’ and Stafford’s solos here. Davis also provides Alba for Queen to demonstrate his technical skills as the cymbals pop and drums get a workout.Appropriately, Mighty Long Way closes with a percussion conversation between Clarke and Queen on The Drum Thing, which bring us back to tribal African beats. Clarke provides a good foil for inspiration for Alvin and the two trade choruses robustly. It is a fitting ending for Queen to show his mighty long way came through a thorough education of gospel, soul, and African rhythm that form the basis for the jazz stylings that Alvin Queen has provided both as leader and star drummer throughout his career of nearly forty years.
TrackList: Mighty Long Way, Sushi, Cape Verdean Blues, Blues on Q, I Got a Woman, Backyard Blues, United, Alba, Let us Go Into the House, The Drum Thing
– Jeff Krow