Elemental Music keeps the Xanadu flame lit- Part I…
Dolo Coker – California Hard – Elemental/Xanadu 906081 – 1976, 51:13 ****1/2:
(Dolo Coker – piano; Blue Mitchell – trumpet/Flugelhorn; Art Pepper – alto and tenor sax; Leroy Vinnegar – bass; Frank Butler – drums)
Sonny Criss – Saturday Morning – Elemental/Xanadu 906086 (1975), 39:38 ***1/2:
(Sonny Criss – alto sax; Barry Harris – piano; Leroy Vinnegar – bass; Lenny McBrowne – drums)
In the mid-1970s jazz was restless as a period of musical expression. Rock had firmly taken hold and the public taste had begun to change. Rock rhythms and electronic instruments were incorporating these influences into a new genre dubbed as “fusion.” Many jazz musicians who did not embrace these changes were either forced to move to Europe or look for studio work in either New York or Los Angeles. Luckily there were some boutique (read: small) recording labels who were anxious to employ these veteran straight ahead jazz musicians to continue to ply their trade. Labels such as Muse, Bee Hive, and Xanadu stood out in their ability to mix and match the artists with leaders becoming sidemen for each others’ releases.
Zev Feldman, who helps run Elemental Music with Jordi Soley, is providing a public service for straight ahead jazz fans by reissuing under the Xanadu Master Edition banner some of the best Xanadu Records issues from the mid to late 1970s. They feature the best of largely East Coast-based icons. Manna from 1970s jazz heaven….
Dolo Coker’s California Hard is pretty special as it features a front line of Art Pepper and Blue Mitchell. It’s a rarity when we get to hear Pepper on tenor sax. Coker’s idea for this date is to prove that California-based jazz artists could also play “hard” (bop) as well as the East Coast dudes.
All hands are on board on “Jumping Jacks” and Frank Butler has has a eight-minute-plus drum solo on “Roots FB,” a head arrangement from Mitchell. “Mr. Yohe” from Pepper is a light toned hard bop swinger. Dolo Coker’s solo piano piece, Monk’s “Round Midnight” is included as a bonus track.
Sonny Criss had been inactive as a recording artist for most of the early 1970s before meeting with Xanadu honcho Don Schlitten regarding resuming his career. He had been battling his own demons as well as trying to help other troubled souls in the Los Angeles area. Schlitten opened his arms to Criss and they recorded Saturday Morning on March 1, 1975. Barry Harris was in town and held the piano chair, while walking bass extraordinaire Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Lenny McBrowne rounded out the rhythm section. Highlights from the session include “Angel Eyes,” where under a relaxed tempo Sonny lets his imagination go with pithy comments on the melody. Some testifying happens on “Jeannie’s Knees,” a moaning passionate blues. There is a joyous lilt and a “glad to be back” vibe on the title cut. “Until the Real Thing Comes Back” is a vibrato rich ballad.
Ronnie Cuber: Star Eyes, Rifftide, Tin Tin Deo, Samba D’Orfeo, Misty, Sudwest Funk, Prince Albert
Sam Jones: Stablemates, Miss Morgan, Laverne Walk, Trane Changes, Sam’s Things, Blue’s