(Lou Donaldson, alto sax; Donald Byrd, trumpet; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Sonny Clark, piano; Jamil Nasser, bass; Art Taylor, drums)
As is the case with Hank Mobley’s Quintet (reviewed here), Lou Donaldson’s 1957 session, Lou Takes Off, has been available in CD format only in Japan or through a Mosaic Records box set. This LD session is fairly unique as Lou did very few “blowing sessions” for Blue Note. His were more typically centered solely around Lou doing his melodic blues based thing backed by a small group with no other horns and often adding a conga drummer. However, for Donaldson’s third 1957 session for Blue Note as a leader, label owner, the iconic Alfred Lion, decided to mix things up by adding a roster of Blue Note future stars in Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, and Sonny Clark.
From Lion’s genius in forming all-star small group aggregations, we get the bop-heavy Lou Takes Off. With an album cover of a spaceship blowing off the launch pad, we get two LD blowing extended pieces – Sputnik and Strollin’ In – as well as Bird’s Dewey Square and Gillespie’s classic Groovin’ High. The non-Donaldson tracks come in at under eight minutes each. Neither additional tracks nor alternate takes are provided.
Charlie Parker’s influence on Donaldson is still felt on Lou’s Sputnik and Bird’s Dewey Square, while the extended Strollin’ In, is blues based hard bop, just coming into full bloom on Blue Note, and for which Blue Note is noted for in their 1960s glory days.
Donald Byrd’s trumpet solo here is aces and Curtis Fuller sows his oats on his solo choruses. Van Gelder’s remastering is superb and both big horns sound splendid. Strollin’ In is my favorite track and at 14:32 of hard bop bliss, everyone contributes. Sweet Lou drips with emotion and I dare any LD fan not to bliss out while Lou strolls. Special props go out to the under appreciated George Joyner for his blues solo. This rare Donaldson blowing session comes highly recommended as early evidence for the abilities and longevity of Donaldson, Fuller, and Byrd. Thank goodness we still have all three with us fifty years later.
TrackList: Sputnik, Dewey Square, Stollin’ In, Groovin High
– Jeff Krow