Orrin Keepnews has long been regarded as one of the top names in jazz production and at eighty five years of age he shows no signs of losing interest. Keepnews was a part-time writer for The Record Changer magazine back in the forties, introducing up and coming new artists, such as Thelonious Monk. One of Keepnews’ greatest gifts – both as a writer and later as a producer – was his capacity for understanding and relating to these artists and their work almost at once. Because he was also a forerunner in really “getting” the modern jazz movement, Orrin also found that he had a special knack in helping to select the best tunes to present to the hesitant, less accepting jazz listeners of the time. A deep respect for the music has maintained his place in the loop all these years (he was associated with many labels notably Riverside but also founded his own – Milestone and Landmark – and also managed some freelance production along the way). More recently, he has lent his name (and some really fabulous liner notes!) to a series of re-issues of various artists that he worked with and knew personally and many of whom may be unknown to a younger, modern audience.
Cornet-player Nat Adderley was the younger brother of ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, the namesake behind the hugely successful quintet. He was however, a superb musician in his own right and became known for his ability to play low, emotional registers on the horn before flashing back up to the high registers at top speed. He played in his brother’s quintets, composed music and played on more than a hundred albums in his career. On Work Song (which also features Wes Montgomery (guitar) Sam Jones (cello, bass) Percy Heath (bass) Bobby Timmons (piano) we’re treated to a variety of pieces, all very different.
The opening track is the well known Work Song composed by Adderley, which features a jaunty blues-oriented call and response between the cornet and the bass that gradually swells into a swinging, polished romp. There’s no mistaking the blues in the cornet’s tone here but Adderley adds an intelligent layer of swankiness to his playing.
Favorite smoochy number (and yes there does always have to be one, actually) is the Gershwin I’ve Got a Crush on you and if Wes Montgomery does not slay you with his beautiful, tentative guitar playing, please seek help at once. Although this is perfect listening for a sophisticated dinner party, the whole record could make even hot dogs seem sophisticated …
Mean to Me is a feel-good song that I just love. It’s got that swingin’ Louis feel happening and the cornet is matched perfectly by the other players who follow Nat’s lead as though they might possibly be on skates. This track would not be out of place in a Woody Allen film; in fact, listening to Nat makes me want to dress only in black [couture] and attend artsy events by special invitation only looking attractive and moody. You get the picture.
For the more experimental and frenetic jazz lovers out there, I give you Scrambled Eggs where all the guys let go and let loose. Everyone shines on this one and Wes’ guitar playing is especially impressive. Actually, considering how few musicians are playing on this one, the end result is almost big-band like at times. There’s also nothing stale here and that’s quite a feat considering that these songs are close to half a century old!
One of the important things about these compilations (and I’ll be reviewing a few others in upcoming weeks) is that many of these artists did not receive appropriate acclaim in their own lifetime and their talent and impact is being preserved now that they are no longer with us. (Nat Adderley passed away in 2000).
The original liner notes from the vinyl are provided as well as more up-to-date delightful reflections (both by Orrin Keepnews) so even more color and detail has been added. What I also think is excellent is that the Keepnews Collections provide a perfect starting point for the beginning listener. There is nothing jarring or overtly experimental on these discs but at the same time the result is pure, un-distilled jazz – captured as it was evolving – but without any cloying compromises to make it slide down easier for the masses.
Try it – you’ll love it.
And check out the interview with Orrin on youtube below! He’s still a very cool guy.
Buy Work Song CD now at Amazon.com!