Monday, October 16, 2017

Paul and His Pals - Waiting for the Next Trane


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles received a message from Jocelyn B. informing us of the passing of tenor saxophonist George Allgaier on September 29, 2017 at the age of 57.

We never met George and knew him only through his recorded work with bassist Paul Brusger's Quintet.  Of George, Paul said: "George was a semi-finalist at the Monk competition behind [alto saxophonist] Jon Gordon and [tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene]. I've known George for a long time and he is a tremendous player with great ears and a full understanding of the history of the saxophone."

As a way of remembering George Allgaier on these pages, we thought we would reprise the two previous essays on Paul and his music, combine them into one posting and add an audio file at the end that offers a sampling of George's wonderful tenor sax playing.

George Allgaier, July 15, 1960 - September 29, 2017: R.I.P.



Musicians are often better known through the company they keep and bassist Paul Brusger keeps very good company.

To drop a few names: trumpet players Valery Ponomarev, John Swana, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and pianists Dado Moroni, Hod O’Brien and John Hicks.

All of these fairly well-known Jazz performers have appeared at one time or another on Paul’s recordings along with his constant companions: the startlingly brilliant young tenor saxophonist, George Allgaier and the very dependable drummer, John Jenkins. [“Dependable” in the way that every horn players wants a drummer to be – “felt” more than “heard.”]

Paul’s association with these superb musical “pals” helps give the title of this piece one of its meanings.

The other implication which makes the title into a double entendre is that Paul’s major influence as a bassist was the late, great Paul Chambers.

Of course, to the Jazz cognoscenti, Paul’s Pal  - the basis for the play-on-words in the title - is a Jazz standard penned by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and is named after … you guessed it … bassist Paul Chambers!

This now completes the circle of allusions inherent in the heading.

When combined, all of these references – working with first-rate musicians, being influenced by one of the great Jazz bassist and the compositions of legendary Jazz players - form the larger context for a visit with the music of Paul Brusger.

Put another way, Paul is the sum of all these parts: he plays well, writes well, and associates himself with exceptional musicians who all get to play on some excellent music that he has composed.

When listening to Paul’s CD’s, its almost impossible to separate these, three unifying threads.

Maybe its because the human mind seems to grasp things better when they appear in sets of three: red, green and blue are the basic color palette; according to Zen Masters the entire universe can be described by, and contained in, a circle, a triangle and a square; with Paul Brusger you get to listen to original Jazz compositions played by superb musicians all of which is held together by strong bass playing.

Of course, I could push this analogy even further by explaining that to date, Paul has issued three CD’s under his own name, but I think it would probably be more appropriate to talk specifically about the music itself at this point.


Scott Yanow opens his insert notes to Paul’s 1997 CD You Oughta Know It [Brownstone BRCD-2-002] by observing:

“Paul Brusger will be a new name to many listeners but it is obvious, listening to his particularly strong debut, that he is not just a fine bassist in the tradition of Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins and Oscar Pettiford but an up-and-coming com­poser too.


Of the ten songs, two are standards, two are his own blues and his six other originals have chord changes that are viable vehicles for solos in the hard bop tradition.

‘I'm amazed how fast it came together,’ says the bassist.’ I gave each of the players the charts one day, we rehearsed for three hours and then we went into the studio the next day. Particularly because so many of the songs are original, I was very impressed by how quickly the musicians made the music their own.’”

To give his listeners a basis in familiarity, Paul does include standards such as Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear From Me, Love Letters, and Falling in Love With Love on his disc, but, in the main, what’s on offer here is Brusger Bop – Jazz compositions written in the straight-ahead, hard-bop style often associated with Tadd Dameron, Gig Gryce and Sonny Clark, to name only a few.

Joining Paul, George Allgaier and John Jenkins on You Oughta Know It are trumpeter Valery Ponomarev and pianist Dado Moroni.

Because of Valery’s heavily influenced Clifford Brown style of playing and George Allagier’s deep affinity for Sonny Rollins, the front-line soon adopts a trumpet-tenor sound that is very reminiscent of the original Clifford Brown- Max Roach quintet.

But influences and comparisons aside, this is Paul Brusger’s music.  It is new and it is fun to play on.  Paul knows what he’s doing and in doing it he doesn’t lose sight of the fact that he has to create compositional vehicles that make it possible for other musicians to create inspired solos.

Whether it’s the rhythmically challenging Urban Lullaby or the medium tempo blues homage contained in Paul’s Chamber [which appropriately leads off with a bass solo – how often do you hear that happen these days?], or the up-tempo burner, Swing Street, with its finger-poppin’ notations, Paul’s composition just lay so right that you can hear everybody having a ball playing on them.

And although Paul’s originals have a familiarity to them [Swing Street, for example, is closely related to I’ll Remember April], they are structured in such a way as to make it possible for the musicians to take chances.

What comes through is the joy, happiness and excitement – the infectious energy of Jazz being created at the highest musical level.

I can imagine the looks of satisfaction that the musicians exchanged with one another after safely navigating through the complexities of Swing Street’s theme, each having had a few “seafaring adventures” along the way in the form of the solos they created based on the tune’s changes.


More of the same can be found on Paul’s 2006 release Go To Plan B [Consolidated Artists Productions CAP 998]. This time, Paul, George and John are in the company of Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone and John Hicks on piano.

In bringing the musicians on this album together, Paul noted:

“I love the baritone sax and I thought it would be a nice blend with tenor, a dark and rich ensemble sound particularly since Cuber has a hard sound while George's tone is softer. I have a very good rapport with John Jenkins and George Allgaier, both of whom I knew from Florida. We have a good kinship and camaraderie; they really have a feel for my music."

And Scott Yanow commented:

“Paul Brusger's latest set is a delight for hard bop and modern mainstream jazz fans. On Go To Plan B, he contributed six of the selections, with one original apiece from Cuber and Hicks plus the standard "Love Letters." The musicians were challenged by the new material yet sound quite comfortable, swinging hard and with constant creativity.”

Ronnie Cuber has been the subject of a previous profile on the blog which you can find by going here.

On Paul’s recording he absolutely soars.  In musician parlance, he plays his backside off. I’ve always been impressed with Ronnie’s ability to get around the baritone saxophone, but on this CD he does so with a fleetness and a ready invention of ideas that is breathtaking at times.

On this outing, Paul puts together an unusual and varied program of originals including a chart that is based on the changes of Coltrane’s Giant Steps [Paul’s Don’t Stop Now] as well as one based on these same changes although this time played backwards – Is What It Is. Talk about challenges!

There’s also a beautiful waltz [Waltz for Lady Nancy], a flag-waver based on the changes to Night and Day [Paul’s Listen Today for Tomorrow’s Answer] and an original from pianist John Hicks [Peaceful Moments] and Ronnie Cuber’s [Ponta Grossa].

Special mention needs to be made of tenor saxophonist George Allgaier who comes at the instrument in a way that features ever-changing approaches and styles. And talk about taking chances! George is all over the horn with beautiful and sometimes scarily put together solos.  No wonder Paul records with him whenever possible. George’s improvisational journeys really serve to keep the music alive.

Hicks comps beautifully and does what he does best – creates musical solos that fall so softly on the ears.

With Paul and John Jenkins rock solid on the time, the album is a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.


Paul’s continues this old and new friends format on his next CD – Definitely released on Philology [W733.2] in 2008.

Along with tenor saxophonist George Allgaier and drummer John Jenkins, Paul brought along veteran pianist Hod O’Brien and Philadelphia-based trumpeter John Swana to the date.

Philology’s owner, Paolo Piangiarelli offered these reflections on the music and the musicians in his insert notes:

“This beautiful cd is the tangible, even touching evidence, proving that the new generation of US young jazzmen respects and loves the great tradition of modern jazz developed in the legendary forties by their ingenious precursors: Bird, Diz, Bud, Monk... Respect, love, but also a conscious practice getting deep into a music that was - and stays - complex, well-constructed, tough, delicate and powerful, to be handled and checked with the fundamental creativity and technical skills that these guys have.

So here's a quintet of modern beboppers whose overwhelming sensibility and ability allow them to launch into important solos, of the kind that remains impressed in your memory. The band is directed by wonderful bassist Paul Brusger, who draws new melodic lines of charming, intriguing beauty, in which reminiscences of a great past - never to be denied - add new colours and strengthen the impact with the listeners. The musicians' skills can consequently stand out: John Swana's agile and expressive trumpet, George Allgaier's luxuriant and imaginative sound of tenor sax, the piano lesson offered by the mythical Hod O'Brien and the rhythmic subtlety owned by the agile and propelling drummer John Jenkins, the group's engine. …

Paolo Piangiarelli
Philology"

Once again the listener is treated to a varied program of Paul’s originals all written more or less in the style of hard bop championed by groups such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

But here again, although the manner of writing has much in common with the modern Jazz of the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, Paul makes the tunes sound fresh through small adjustments to the harmonies, being careful to play them in the right tempos and by creating melodic platforms for today’s young players like John Swana and George Allgaier to express their newer approaches to improvising.

There’s a lot of new music here. With the exception of a repeat of Waltz for Lady Nancy, Paul contributes nine, previously unrecorded tunes to the date; not an easy thing to do while still keeping the music interesting and distinct.

Some guys have a gift for composition and Paul Brusger is one of those guys.

One hears so often these days about Jazz not being what is used to be and that today’s players don’t have anything appealing to offer.

The music on these CDs by Paul Brusger and his pals provide over three hours of Jazz composed and played at the highest levels of professionalism and artistic expression, all of which serve as a living contradiction to such a nonsensical assertion.

If these recordings are any indication, Jazz is in good hands.

It must be nice to have friends, er… pals like Paul’s!

The following video contains a sample track from one of Paul’s CDs.



© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Today - October 8, 2014 - is the release date of bassist, composer and arranger Paul Brusger's latest CD on Nils Winther's venerable Steeplechase label.

Entitled Waiting for the Next Trane [SCCD 33115] it features Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, Mike LeDonne on piano and Louis Hayes on drums along with more of Paul's inventive, hard-bop inflected, original compositions. If you like the music of Horace Silver, Sonny Clark and Hank Mobley, then you will feel right at home with Paul's writing.

Paul kindly asked me to put together some insert notes for the CD and I thought you might enjoy reading them, too.


"Musicians are often better known through the company they keep and bassist Paul Brusger keeps very good company.

To drop a few names - trumpet players Valery Ponomarev, John Swana, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and pianists Dado Moroni, Hod O’Brien and John Hicks - all have played on Paul’s previous recordings.

Paul’s major influence as a bassist was the late, great Paul Chambers and one can also hear echoes of “Mr. P.C.” and that of bassists Oscar Pettiford, Wilbur Ware and Doug Watkins in the way he lays down his bass lines and in the notes he chooses to frame the chords.

Paul is also a gifted composer who writes in a style that could be called “Brusger’s Bop” as his Jazz compositions are written in the straight-ahead, hard-bop style often associated with Tadd Dameron, Horace Silver, Gigi Gryce and Sonny Clark.

When combined, all of these ingredients – working with first-rate musicians, being influenced by one of the great Jazz bassist and a writing style that is closely patterned after the style of legendary Jazz composers - form a larger context for a visit with the music of Paul Brusger.

Paul is the sum of all these parts: he plays well, associates himself with exceptional musicians who all get to play the intriguing and interesting music that he has composed.

These unifying threads all come together once more on Waiting for The Next Trane.

On his first outing for the legendary Steeplechase label, Paul continues to put himself in good musical company, this time with the musical talents of baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, pianist Mike LeDonne and drummer Louis Hayes.

Gary plays the baritone saxophone with verve, vigor and vitality. He is a risk-taker. Gary expresses what he hears in his head and feels in his heart, not always an easy thing to do when you have to take a deep breath and blow it through the equivalent of a compressed central plumbing system to make music.

But that's the nature of Jazz: overcoming the technical problems of playing an instrument while at the same time creating interesting melodies on the spot.

You can't take anything back that you've just put out there. There's is no safety net.

The Act of Creation is rarely seen for what it really is - An Act of Courage.

And no one on today's Jazz scene has more sang-froid than Gary Smulyan.

Gary’s sound on baritone sax is very reminiscent of that of the late, Pepper Adams. But while Pepper is certainly a point of departure for him, Smulyan has moved well-beyond Adams’ influence and has established his own style on the instrument, one that also displays a considerable and very advanced technique.

If truth be told, as much as I enjoy Gary Smulyan’s playing, I have to “take it in small doses” as he puts so many ideas into his improvisations and swings so hard all the time that he [figuratively] wears me out.  The marvel is that he doesn't wear himself out!

Quite the contrary, it seems, as each in-person performance or recording is better than the previous one. Gary’s work continually grows in stature and complexity; signs of a mature artist at work.

There appears to be no limits to his artistic creativeness; he’s a veritable musical fountain from which well-constructed phrases and lines come bubbling forth to form chorus-upon-chorus of interesting solos.

All this imaginative energy no doubt stems from his passion for playing Jazz, a zeal that apparently knows no bounds.

Like Paul Brusger, pianist Mike LeDonne is an extremely skillful composer, whose services have been in such great demand that he has appeared on over 50 recordings as a leader or as a sideman during the past 25 years.

It’s nice to hear him back at the piano as many of his recent recordings have featured Mike’s exceptional abilities as a Hammond B-3 organist.

Over the years, Mike has studied with fabled Jazz pianists Jaki Byard and Barry Harris while checking out major piano stylists like Teddy Wilson, Al Haig, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Ray Bryant and Cedar Walton in some of the smaller, more intimate clubs when he first arrived on the New York Jazz scene.

In the introduction to a 2009 interview with Mike for Jazz.com, Thomas Pena wrote:

“What a career it’s been for Mike. Speaking to him is like taking a crash course in the history of Jazz. It seems that he has performed, recorded, and/or rubbed elbows with everyone in the world of jazz at one time or another.”

The list of Jazz luminaries with whom Mike has worked includes Benny Golson, Milt Jackson, and Scott Robinson and, more recently: Eric Alexander, Wycliffe Gordon, Jim Snidero and five recordings under Gary Smulyan’s leadership.

Mike also commented in the 2009 Jazz.com interview: “I feel good. I still want to improve, and I wanted to get to another level. There are always guys that you listen to, guys like McCoy Tyner and say, ‘Wow! I would like to be able to play like that…..’”

Judging by his work on this CD, it sounds like all of Mike’s wishes about improving and getting to another level have been granted, including the one about McCoy Tyner because in some of his soloing, McCoy’s influence is very apparent.

And what more can be said about Louis Hayes - Paul’s choice for the drum chair on this date? I’ve lost count of the number of memorable groups Louis has worked with and recordings that he has appeared on over the last half century including his long associations with Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver and Oscar Peterson.

His profile on drummerworld.com contains the following description of his gifts:

“For more than fifty years, Hayes has been a catalyst for energetic unrelenting swing in self-led bands, as well as, in those whose respective leaders reads like an encyclopedia of straight-ahead, post-bop modern Jazz. ….

With so much activity in his past, Louis could easily rest comfortably on his laurels. But being a forward thinker and doer, Hayes operates in the present with his current group boasting some of the cream of the recent crop of Jazz artists. Louis Hayes possess and embarrassment of riches. His story, still being told, contains a glorious past, a vibrant present and an ever promising future.”

Bassist, Chuck Israels once described the relationship he wanted to achieve when working with a drummer this way:

"When I listen to the drummer and the bass player together, I like to hear wedding bells. You play every beat in complete rhythmic unity with the drummer, thousands upon thousands of notes together, night after night after night. If it’s working, it brings you very close. It’s a kind of emotional empathy that you develop very quickly. The relationship is very intimate.”

Paul and Louis develop such a marriage between bassist and drummer on this outing and it represents another testimony to Louis adaptability and flexibility as a masterful musician.

Whatever the setting, Louis just makes it happen.


The music on this recording is made up of eight originals by Paul and a beautiful rendition of Quincy Jones’ Quintessence. Listeners often wonder what the source of inspiration is for original compositions, but rarely get the chance to ask the composer where the music comes from. With this in mind, I asked Paul if he would make some comments about each of his tunes.

In a Minor Funk “is simply my take on the kind of groove Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers would come up with.

It’s In There Somewhere “is a play on words on Out of Nowhere. My song uses the same changes and I wrote it in the style of Tadd Dameron and Gigi Gryce, two of my favorites composers.”

When Will You Ever Learn “is aimed at me because sometimes I tend to be too stubborn and looks for a perfection that gets in the way of the music. Like Gary Smulyan is fond of saying: “Jazz has warts.’”

Waiting For The Next Trane “is my tribute to John Coltrane. “Will there be such an influence as great as his ever again?”

Andrea’s Delight “was written for my youngest daughter. It has a pretty melody with a demanding harmonic sequence that descends in a seemingly never-ending spiral of minor thirds.”

“I choose Quincy Jones’ Quintessence for the date because it has a main ingredient that all good music must have - it’s got soul.”

Bird’s In The Yard “is my tribute to Charlie Parker, the first and foremost influence in all of modern Jazz.”

Bringing Home The Silver “is written as a samba because I wanted it to be an ideal showcase for the great Louis Hayes who held down the drum chair in Horace Silver’s quintet for many years.”

All But One “is the very first composition that I ever wrote. It is spiritual in nature and is meant to convey that we all come from different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, yet we are all part of this human experience called Life.”

In characterizing Paul’s music for Definitely, a compact disc that he released on his Philology label [W733.2] in 2008, Paolo Piangiarelli said:

“This beautiful CD provides tangible, even touching evidence which proves that
the new generation of US young jazzmen respects and loves the great tradition of modern jazz developed in the legendary forties by their ingenious precursors: Bird, Diz, Bud, Monk... Respect, love, but also a conscious practice of getting deep into a music that was - and stays - complex, well-constructed, tough, delicate and powerful, to be handled and checked with the fundamental creativity and technical skills that these guys have.

The band is directed by wonderful bassist Paul Brusger, who draws new melodic lines of charming, intriguing beauty, in which reminiscences of a great past - never to be denied - add new colours and strengthen the impact with the listeners. The musicians' skills can consequently stand out….”

Although the manner of writing has much in common with the modern Jazz of the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, Paul makes the tunes sound fresh through small adjustments to the harmonies, being careful to play them in the right tempos and by creating melodic platforms for Gary and Mike to express their own approach to improvising.

Some guys have a gift for composition and Paul Brusger is one of those guys.

One hears so often these days about Jazz not being what is used to be and that today’s players don’t have anything appealing to offer.

The music on Waiting for The Next Trane is Jazz composed and played at the highest levels of professionalism and artistic expression by Gary, Mike, Paul and Louis.

If this recording is any indication, Jazz is in good hands as it goes forward into the 21st century."

-Steve Cerra
www.jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/






Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ahmad Jamal on Mosaic Records

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



Kenny Washington: “How did you come up with your concept of less-is-more?”

Ahmad Jamal: “… I think it has to do with philosophy and how I approach the disciplines. There’s a discipline in music. There’s an amount of showiness and showing off in front of musicians, which is always a mistake. So I kind of backed off sometimes and I think it’s part of the discipline that I’ve employed through the years. I still have that. Some people call it space, but I call it discipline.”

“These sides are glistening examples of the polished skill and remarkable interplay that are the hallmarks of the Jamal trio.  Israel Crosby is on-hand to give imaginative and rock-steady support. Vernel Fournier is, as ever, fluid and quick as mercury. Jamal displays all the qualities that have elicited so much vociferous respect from fellow musicians, critics and records buyers ….”
- Jack Tracy/Original liner notes to Jamal at The Pershing, Vol. 2

“The mid fifties was a fertile time for Jazz; fresh, original ensembles were taking shape all over the country. The Modern Jazz Quartet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Jazz Messengers and the Ahmad Jamal Trio immediately come to mind. Among musicians, each group had its imitators and its creative disciples who took its innovations one step further.

But no group in this era was as pervasive as the 1957 incarnation of Jamal’s trio with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier. Like the Nat King Cole Trio of the previous decade, its influence penetrated so many different aspects of music.

Jamal is first and foremost a pianist with a natural gift for the instrument. His technique, dynamics and control are something to behold, but the mind that manipulates what comes out of the piano is extraordinary.  Like only the greatest of improvising artists, Jamal is a master architect, realizing with his mind conceives with seeming ease.”
- Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records

 

My feelings about the music contained in this nine-CD set [MD9-246] can be summed up with the expression on Ahmad’s face in the following photo:


Click on this link to Mosaic Records for more information about the set’s discography.

Around 1958, when I first heard pianist Ahmad Jamal on many of the trio LP recordings that make-up the Mosaic boxed set, I was immediately reminded of Erroll Garner.

I was vaguely aware that both Ahmad and Erroll were born and raised in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t know that Garner was his “biggest influence” [Jamal speaking to drummer Kenny Washington during a 2003 KBGO radio interview, a transcription of which is included in the insert notes to the Mosaic boxed set].

For those readers who are not familiar with Erroll Garner’s inimitable piano playing, perhaps the following description of it may prove helpful:

Unique is an inadequate word to describe Erroll Garner. He was a musical phenomenon unlike any other. One of the most appealing performers in jazz history, he influenced almost every pianist who played in his era, and even beyond. Self-taught, he could not read music, yet he did things that trained pianists could not play, or even imagine. Garner was a one-man swing band, and indeed often ac­knowledged that his main inspiration was the big bands of the thir­ties—Duke, Basie, Lunceford, et al. He developed a self-sufficient, extremely full style that was characterized by a rock-steady left hand that often sounded like a strumming rhythm guitar. Juxtaposed against this was a river of chordal and single-note ideas, frequently stated in a lagging, behind-the-beat way that generated terrific swing.”
- Dick Katz, Pianists of the 1940’s and 1950’s in Bill Kirchner, ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford, 2000, p. 365]

The point in comparison between Garner and Jamal styles had to do with this part of the above quotation: “rock-steady left hand that often sounded like a strumming rhythm guitar. Juxtaposed against this was a river of chordal and single-note ideas, frequently stated in a lagging, behind-the-beat way that generated terrific swing.”

You can listen Erroll’s distinctive approach in the following YouTube.


But why did this comparison between Ahmad and Erroll come to mind as Jamal does not do what Garner does with his left-hand?

The “…river of chordal and single-noted ideas, et al.” struck a responsive chord [bad pun intended] as both pianists seem to gush forth with improvisatory ideas, but only Garner emphasized the rhythmic pulse of a piece by playing four-beats to the bar with his left-hand.

And then it dawned on me!

Jamal had substituted bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier in place of Garner’s left-hand thus freeing up both hands so that he could dart in and out of the time and play over the time using astounding runs, arpeggios, quotations from other tunes, counter-melodies and even counter-rhythms.

What sets all of this off is Jamal calculated use of space, something that rarely enters into Garner’s style because Erroll is always playing – there is no space.

As you can hear in the audio track to the above video, Garner can’t wait to finish one improvised phrase before starting another while Jamal, on the other hand, might play an idea, let it linger, leaving a space in which the bassist and the drummer continue to play before coming back into the tune again and exploring how other ideas might work. Jamal now had both hands free to build Garner-like orchestral creations.

Put another way, no Erroll Garner no Ahmad Jamal: Ahmad replaced Erroll’s always driving left hand with the always driving Israel Crosby-Vernel Fournier rhythmic pulse that he darted in and out of or played Erroll like orchestral phrases over.

But this wasn’t just any rhythm section that Ahmad was abandoning responsibility for the time to. With bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier he had a well-oiled rhythm machine.


Crosby was a master of the walking bass which Gunther Schuller defines as: “In Jazz, a line played pizzicato on a double bass in regular crotchets in 4/4 meter, the notes usually moving stepwise or in intervallic patterns not necessarily restricted to the main pitches of the harmony. The style arose as the use of stride piano patterns declined, …, it has since become lingua franca for Jazz bass players, allowing them to contribute pulse, harmony and countermelody simultaneously.” – The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [p. 1257].

John Voight describes Crosby as “… one of the earliest virtuoso double bass players, capable of improvising melodic solos, rhythmically exciting accompaniment and scalar walking bass lines.”  – The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [p. 257].

Although he was one of the busiest drummers in Chicago by the time he joined Ahmad in 1958, Vernel Fournier was born and raised in New Orleans and his drumming never lost some of the syncopated, cadence feeling associated with the famous marching bands of the Crescent City.

According to Jack Chambers in Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis:

“Despite his exposure in Ahmad’s trio, Fournier never received full credit and remains relatively unknown, but he is a percussionist of extraordinary delicacy. Jack DeJohnette, a much younger Chicago drummer says, ‘One day I heard Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing [a Chicago nightclub], and I heard Vernel Fournier on drums. His brushwork was so incredible – I mean just impeccable.’” [New York: William Morrow, 1960,p.202]
-
Vernel’s drumming has a bounce, a jauntiness and a swagger to it that seems so characteristic of New Orleans in its heyday.

His brush work has a big fat, meaty sound, his stick work is clean and crisp and his time is flawless.

Fournier is from a  period in Jazz drumming when it was almost an inviolable rule that whatever rhythmic figures you played on the snare and bass drum, you had to intersperse them within the cymbal beat.

No matter what else you played as accents, you had to keep the insistent chang-a-dang, chang-a-dang, chang-a-dang going.

This was also true of licks, kicks and fills; you played these in such a way as to return the music as neatly to the cymbal beat as possible.

[When using brushes on the snare drum, the “cymbal beat” was replicated with by crossing the right brush over a swirling pattern being made by the left brush.]

Momentum, swing, metronomic time – whatever you want to call it – were all driven off of a cymbal beat, preferably one that was in lock step with a walking bass line.

No bassist and drummer in the history of Jazz ever locked-in better in a trio format than Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier.

Vernel also feathers the bass drum, another technique that was very much a part of modern drumming before the advent of the Elvin Jones and Tony Williams freer or looser style.


Feathering involves using the bass drum petal and the beater ball to lightly tap the bass drum, four-beats to the bar.  It is a vestige of the earliest time in the history of Jazz when drummers carried the beat on the bass drum in a more pronounced manner.

Beginning with the bebop era in the 1940s, especially with some of the more frenzied tempos associated with bop, drummers took carrying the beat off the base drum and brought it up to the ride cymbal, using the hi-hat or sock cymbal to heavily accent only the second and fourth beat of each bar.

In effect, this loosened up the sound and the feel of the rhythm so that it fit better within bebop’s melodic and harmonic framework.

It also helped prevent the poor drummer’s foot from falling off while trying to play the bass drum constantly during some of bebop’s wickedly fast tempos.

Some drummers got caught up in the changer-over from traditional Jazz and swing to bop with the result that while they could play the looser feeling time on the cymbal or with brushes, they never got away from playing four-beats-to-the-bar with the bass drum.

Instead, they toned-it-down, hence the advent of feathering.

Given how quietly it is played, the feathered bass drum generally went unnoticed particularly with the loudness of brass and reed instruments in a bop combo.

However, in a piano-bass-drum configuration, the net effect of the feathered bass drum was to give depth to the pulse of the beat, make it more insistent and drive it more.

I always thought that that the combination of Israel Crosby’s superb walking bass and Vernel’s fat sounding brush work gave Ahmad’s trio a driving propulsion and forceful swing that other trios rarely achieved.

But whether it was due to my wonky ears, the manner in which the original LPs were recorded, or my under-performing audio playback system,  I missed actually “hearing” the added ingredient in the Jamal’s trio swing: Fournier’s feathered bass drum.

However, because of the improved sound quality made possible by Mosaic’s digital transfers, the feathered bass drum is no longer hidden and is revealed throughout these recordings.

For example, as the time switches from a “two” feeling to a straight "four," you can hear Vernel’s feathering of the bass drum beginning at 1:55 on Angel Eyes, the Matt Dennis tune from the Mosaic series which is used as the audio track for the following YouTube tribute to the classic Ahmad Jamal Trio of 1957-1962.



Here’s are Kenny Washington’s thoughts about the tune:

“The Matt Dennis song Angel Eyes is one of the great torch songs of all time. Ol' Blue Eyes owned this one. I especially love the last lyric "scuse me while I disappear." A year earlier, Gene Ammons had had a hit with this standard. This tune is usually done as a ballad, but Ahmad takes it at a nice medium tempo. Ahmad reshapes the form of this standard like a sculptor, to fit the needs of the trio playing a chorus and a half of the melody. He uses the intro as an interlude. For the first chorus of his improvisation, he switches to the regular A-A-B-A song form of the tune. He then goes directly to the bridge and last A section with the interlude. This form is repeated again (bridge, last A and interlude). Listen to how he changes his dynamics to a pianis­simo and brings back the bridge melody. The Gershwin classic It Ain't Necessarily So is quoted for a second time at the last A before the intro is again stated for a powerful ending. This is another one of those performances where there's a lot happening. This marvelous arrangement sounds so natural and the trio pulls it off with such ease.”

Listening to the recordings on the Mosaic 9-disc set, it’s hard to understand why a number of critics rejected Ahmad and the trio’s music at the time of their original release. John Hammond put it more strongly when he stated that Ahmad’s music during the period from 1957-1962 was “scorned by the critics but worshipped by musicians and public alike ….”

Even the enormous appeal of his music to the likes of Miles Davis was derisively described by the noted Jazz critic, Gary Giddins, as an “… overbaked … fascination.”

Martin Williams, another Jazz literary luminary, went even further when he stated that:

“Pianist Ahmad Jamal is a success: he has several best-selling LP's, a supper-club following (which otherwise displays little interest in jazz), and several direct imitators. He has also re­ceived the deeper compliment of having admittedly affected the work of an important jazzman. His success should surprise no one, and his effect on Miles Davis should prove (if proof were needed) that good art can be influenced by bad.

Clearly, Davis responds to some of Jamal's interesting and very contemporary harmonic voicings and the very light, and impecca­bly accurate rhythmic pulse of Jamal's trio, particularly in the support he got from his bassist, the late Israel Crosby, and from his drummer, Vernel Fournier. Further, Jamal has the same interest in openness of melody, space, and fleeting silence that Davis does. But for the trumpeter these qualities can be aspects of haunting lyric economy. For Jamal they seem a kind of crowd-titillating stunt work. Indeed, in a recital like "Ahmad Jamal at the Blackhawk," recorded in a San Francisco night club, it appears that Jamal's real instrument is not the piano at all but his audience. On some numbers, he will virtually sit things out for a chorus, with only some carefully worked out rhapsodic harmo­nies by his left hand or coy tinklings by his right. After that, a few bombastic block chords by both hands, delivered forte, will absolutely lay them in the aisles. And unless you have heard Ahmad Jamal blatantly telegraph the climax of a piece, or beg applause en route with an obvious arpeggio run which he drops insinuatingly on the crowd after he has been coasting along on the graceful momentum of Crosby and Fournier, then you have missed a nearly definitive musical bombast. …” Jazz Changes [New York: Oxford, 1992, p. 281].


But while Giddins, Williams and others thought Jamal’s approach to be limited and limiting, drummer Jack DeJohnette observed:

"Ahmad's always been his own man - way ahead of his time in terms of using space and chord voicings, which is one of the reasons Miles liked him so much. Ahmad knew how to get the most out of his instrument, so that a piano trio sounded like a symphony orchestra. He's a great organizer, and his concept is so sophisticated and intelligent, yet so loose and funky." [Jack Chambers, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, pp. 202-203]

And Jack Chambers offers these engaging explanations by Ahmad:

To his persistent critics, Jamal replies, "Sometimes people don't identify with pur­ity - that's what my music was then and that's what it is now. I've endured some of the harsh statements, but for every harsh statement there have been 99 compli­mentary ones. What I've done and am still doing is a product of years of blood, sweat and tears, and as long as I am completely secure in the knowledge that what I am doing is valid, then eventually even the most stupid critic has to acknowledge the validity of my work."

Part of the problem critics have with his music, according to Jamal, is that it is understated. "Anybody can play loudly," he says. "It is more difficult to play softly while swinging at that same level of intensity you can get playing fortis­simo. To swing hard while playing quietly is one of the signs of the true artist." Almost completely overlooked by the most negative critics is Jamal's flawless technique. It is a virtue that other musicians, especially piano players, talk about with reverence. Cedar Walton says, "I never heard Ahmad even come close to playing anything without a great deal of technique, taste and timing. When he goes across the piano, he just doesn't ever miss a note - there's never any question. For me, that's still a great thrill, just to hear somebody do that." Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, p. 203]

Summing up Jamal genius, his influence and the significance of the Mosaic set, Michael Cuscuna offered these observations:

“He certainly exercised a profound influence on pianists and his trio set a new standard for what the piano trio in jazz would aim for and achieve. His knack for finding obscure but viable material which lent itself to a jazz treatment was equal to that of Sonny Rollins and Jimmy Rowles. But when Ahmad put an overlooked tune into circulation, it often stayed in the jazz repertoire forever thereafter. And with songs like "Poinciana" and "Billy Boy," it was Jamal's unique and imaginative re-arrangement of the tune which would become the standard form with which to play the piece.

Much like Miles Davis (who incidentally was greatly influenced by him), his influence is felt in music that attempts to replicate his and in great music that sounds nothing like his. But unlike musicians of similar or even lesser impact, the music of the 1957-62 Ahmad Jamal Trio has been mysteriously and distressingly hard to come by, even in the "reissue everything" era of the Compact Disc.

Literally years in the making, this set introduces 23 previously unreleased gems approved by the artist himself. It was delayed by a fire on the Universal Studios lot in California which took much of the original Jamal trio LP masters with it and our search to reconstruct the music on the set from a variety of analog and digital sources sitting in vaults around the world.

It's been a heck of a long time coming and we hope you enjoy The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions.”