Sonny Stitt & The Top Brass – Atlantic Records / Speakers Corner #1395 – 1962 – 180 gm stereo vinyl – 35:23 – ****
Sonny Stitt was equally proficient on both the alto, and tenor saxophone. He was known as a “take no prisoners” saxophonist, who could outplay most anyone in a “cutting” session. He has been compared to Charlie Parker, for his speed and fluency on the horn. Stitt’s improvisations were heavily influenced by the blues, and he could also be very lyrical and expressive on ballads. For a period of time, he played the Varitone electrified sax, for which he had an equal amount of fans as detractors.
In 1962, Stitt had a chance to record with a dream brass section, utilizing two of the most accomplished arrangers of the day, Jimmy Mundy and the iconic, Tadd Dameron. This session, recorded over a two day period in mid-July, required a discipline that Stitt did not usually need to display on his previous record dates. He had to be more “economical” with his solos, and more tempered in his presentation, sharing his formidable skills with a veteran brass section, providing colors and commentary, whereas in the past he could free blow to his heart’s content.
Stitt passes the test with ease. Even on the three tracks that he penned, of the nine tracks here, Sonny fits right in. The brass section is composed of three trumpets, two trombones, and a french horn. The rhythm section is made up of either the veteran, Duke Jordan on piano, or Perri Lee on organ. Joe Benjamin is on bass on all tracks, while Philly Joe Jones, or Frank Brown, handle the drum set.
“Souls Valley opens side one with Lee on organ setting the blues in motion, before Stitt takes over. (Unfortunately, the liner notes do not specify which of the trumpet players take solos, so it is difficult to make comments on their involvement). “Coquette” is next with its familiar theme, and Sonny effectively plays off of the horns.
“On a Misty Night,” has Dameron arranging with a polished sheen. Stitt has some very high register choruses, and goes out on the tune with notes that could be a hearing test challenge. Sonny’s own “Stittsie” gives him a rare chance in this setting to really stretch out. I’m not sure, but I think it is my favorite trumpeter, Blue Mitchell, who gets the trumpet solo.
Side two opens with a classic big band version of “Poinciana.” Sonny is relatively restrained as he glides over the chord changes. Jimmy Mundy’s “Boom-Boom” has a real Basie feel, both boisterous, yet polished. “Sea Sea Rider” is a blues ballad, and it is a real treat to hear trombonists, Matthew Gee and Jimmy Cleveland, trade choruses. Duke Jordan gets a bit of time to work his magic.
“The Four Ninety” is another Tadd Dameron arrangement that just feels right. “Hey Pam,” from Stitt, closes out the album on a sweet note, with Stitt again a strong team player, content to let the tune come to him, rather than dominate.
All in all, this is a winning effort for Stitt, and a chance to appreciate his talents, even in a restrained setting. The remastered sound is an extra bonus…
Sonny Stitt – alto sax; Reunald Jones, Blue Mitchell, Dick Vance – trumpets; Matthew Gee and Jimmy Cleveland – trombones; Willie Ruff – French horn; Duke Jordan – piano; Perri Lee – organ; Joe Benjamin – bass; Philly Joe Jones or Frank Brown – drums
On a Misty Night
Sea See Rider
The Four Ninety