Elvin Jones – Dear John C. – Impulse/ Analogue Productions Stereo-only SACD CIPJ 88 SA (1965), 39:12 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]****:
(Elvin Jones, drums; Charlie Mariano, alto sax; Hank Jones or Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass)
For Elvin Jones’ second album as a leader, he decided to dedicate an album to John Coltrane, his former employer with whom he drummed from 1960 to 1965 (perhaps the peak period of Coltrane’s solo career).
Recorded over two days in late Feb. 1965, Jones was content to take a back seat to Charlie Mariano, who was known at the time as more of a bebopper. Mariano had an interesting career, as early on he was an acolyte of Charlie Parker, then went through a West Coast jazz phase. He was married for a period of time to Toshiko Akiyoshi and they played together until 1967, living in Japan for a period of time. Mariano later incorporated music from other cultures including India and the Far East during the 70s and 80s. During the last decade of his life, Charlie returned to more mainstream jazz, and he remained active on the scene until near the end of his life (he passed away in 2009).
In retrospect, choosing Mariano to play an album dedicated to John Coltrane on an instrument that was different that Coltrane played may have seemed an odd choice. But today, knowing that Coltrane was always searching for new avenues for his music and was highly spiritual, the choice of Mariano as the saxophonist makes more sense, though back in 1965, it must have raised eyebrows.
Another aspect of this recording remains relevant. Although Elvin Jones was an incredibly dynamic drummer, who bridged mainstream jazz with the avant, he always was incredibly generous as a band leader, taking a supportive role for the horn players in his group. On Dear John C., Jones’ drumming never overwhelms Mariano, though he could have taken center stage in a heartbeat, with his incredible drumming talent. (When I saw Elvin play during the last decade of his life, he was like a tiger on the bandstand patiently waiting for his turn to solo, when he had total control of the stage with his drum set.)
Song selection on this album was really a mixed bag, with three compositions from Bob Hammer (including the title track); standards from Ellington, Mingus, and Parker; as well as Frank Sinatra’s “This Love of Mine”, and a pop tune by Anthony Newley, “Feeling Good.”
The title track opens the album, and here, Mariano comes closest to bringing to mind Coltrane. Richard Davis has a prominent bas solo and the SACD brings out the richness of Davis’ tone. Elvin even has a few choice thunderous moments for drum statements. “Smoke Rings” follows and like two other tracks, the pianist sits out, leaving just Mariano, Davis, and Jones.
Charlie blows very soulfully here on a ballad with some bebop touches. Davis and Jones play off each other effectively.
Mingus’ “Love Bird” features Roland Hanna and Davis (Richard’s contributions throughout almost deserve a co-leadership billing.)
“Feeling Good” from the play The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd is next and Mariano’s lyrical playing is on full display and simply sublime. Hank Jones was the perfect pianist for this tune as his elegance is de rigueur for the emotion that the tune elicits.
Jones and Mariano give the bop standard “Anthropology” a soft touch at the beginning before the full alto sax bop feel takes over. The rhythm section again takes a full 180-degree turn, highlighted by Davis’ woody bass solo. Ellington’s “Fantazm” has a calypso beat that Elvin eats up, while Mariano gives an exotic turn on his alto. “Ballade” is sumptuous as Mariano, ever the consummate ballad player, stretches out his solo notes for full romantic effect. It is a highlight tune for Charlie. Davis’ walking bass is featured on the closer, “Everything Happens to Me,” and Mariano’s bop credentials are affirmed.
The wizards at Analogue Productions have worked their mastery on this SACD, as I have not heard much better bass reproduction as on this SACD.
It kind of helps to have Richard Davis on board as well….
TrackList: Dear John C., Smoke Rings, Love Bird, Feeling Good, Anthropology, This Love of Mine, Fantazm, Ballade, Everything Happens to Me
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