Buck Clayton – How High The Fi – A Buck Clayton Jam Session – Columbia Records CL 567 (1954)/ Pure Pleasure Records PPAN CL 567 (2015) (mono double vinyl disc), 55:65 *****:
(Buck Clayton – trumpet; Joe Thomas – trumpet; Joe Newman – trumpet; Urbie Green – trombone; Trummy Young – trombone; Benny Powell ; trombone; Woody Herman – clarinet; Lem Davis – alto saxophone; Julian Dash – tenor saxophone; Al Cohn – tenor saxophone; Charlie Fowlkes – baritone saxophone; Jimmy Jones – piano; Sir Charles Thompson – piano; Steve Jordan – guitar; Freddie Green – guitar; Walter Page – bass; Jo Jones – drums)
A cornerstone of jazz culture has been the jam sessions. Many groups (regardless of stature) that appeared in the same town concurrently gathered for late-night, jam festivities. Amid the aura of improvisation and camaraderie, legends (and future legends) refined their craft as soloists and ensemble performers. Unfortunately, the results of these collaborations were rarely preserved on vinyl (adding to the legend). But in the early fifties, Columbia Records captured all-star glory with its Buck Clayton jam catalog. Now, Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered How Hi The Fi to 180-gram vinyl.
Following the success of Buck’s first jam session, Huckle-Buck And Robbins’ Nest (Columbia CL 548), producer George Avakian (with the help of John Hammond) assembled a veteran cadre of musicians. Many of these players were part of Count Basie’s band and the group dynamics are present. A last-minute surprise addition (on two sides) was clarinetist Woody Herman, in town on his way to Europe. How High The Fi was recorded in two dates, with an emphasis on spontaneity.
Side A consists of the title track (all four sides are single cuts). It is unadulterated “Kansas City” swing. There is an opening “ensemble release” to alto saxophonist Lem Davis. Then Clayton wails old school as the horns frame him. This 13:40 minute extravaganza boasts 22 choruses. Fortunately Avakian’s informative liner notes detail the sequencing. Then the avalanche of solos evolve as Herman, John Dash (tenor saxophone), Trummy Young (especially “nasty” on trombone), Al Cohn (tenor saxophone), Joe Thomas (trumpet) are simply brilliant. Pianist Jimmy Jones offers an eloquent counterpoint to the muscular jamming. Clayton and Herman bring the number to a wild close.
Side B (same session) is an inspired version of the often covered standard, “Blue Moon”. Including 10 choruses, the song begins with a muted trumpet lead (Clayton) that leads into gorgeous harmony with Herman. Again, Davis, Cohn, Young all contribute fluid runs shaded by rhythmic counterpoint. Elevating this arrangement is the individual nuances of the players, and the harmonic creativity. Trummy Young (a member of Louis Armstrong’s band) imbues Dixieland sauciness. Herman (among the greatest on his instrument) fits in perfectly with this group. Jimmy Jones contributes a finger-snapping solo. Clayton is a force on the album. His muted and traditional horn work is crisply executed and full of bluesy countenance. “Blue Moon” climaxes with a Clayton/Young /Clayton sequence that is exhilarating.
The next two sides (recorded four months earlier) have a different lineup (Charlie Fowlkes/baritone saxophone, Sir Charles Thompson/piano, Joe Newman/trumpet, Benny Powell/trombone and Freddie Green/guitar). Side C (14:45 and 9 ½ choruses) is a jazzy interpretation of Les Brown’s “Sentimental Journey”. The previous band was exemplary and this one may be even better. With a vampy, “lazy blues” vibe, Sir Charles Thompson sets the opus in motion with his exquisite, concise notation. Both Lem Davis and Benny Powell transcend the melodic structure, while Joe Newman punctuates with jazzy vibrancy. Urbie Green’s soulful trombone is followed by Clayton’s animated muted trumpet. Thompson’s graceful, economic style is sprightly and when Charlie Fowlkes chimes in on baritone, the pop composition is transformed. Side D (“Moten Swing”) follows the instrumentation format of the flip side. The cool, jazzy opening by Thompson is lyrical and expressive. The counterpoint of the ensemble against the soloists is dynamic. This is the most elaborate arrangement on the album. The gentle tempo of the Bennie Moten band (with Count Basie on piano) classic is developed with compelling musicality. Despite the “jam” looseness, the chemistry is palpable.
Pure Pleasure Records has brought this mono fidelity session to life on 180-gram vinyl. The original, meticulous engineering sounds flawless. The instrumentation (both individual and combined) is pristine in clarity and mixing. All of the horns and reeds sound great, without a trace of shrillness. The reproduction of the original gatefold is top-notch (including the plug for Columbia needles). [Interesting how the audiophile vinyl reissues often look so much like the original LP release (if someone has it) that even the name of the repressing label doesn’t appear anywhere, even on the vinyl’s center label…Ed.] How Hi The Fi is jazz at its best!
Side A: How Hi The Fi
Side B: Blue Moon
Side C: Sentimental Journey
Side D: Moten Swing