Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dick De Graaf - Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and Something New

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

“Oliver Nelson’s timeless compositions are infused with subtle variations on the traditional chord changes associated with the blues. This virtuosity is exactly why his work still inspires today’s improvising musicians.”

The title of this piece stems from an old English rhyme "Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe," all of which are incorporated into their weddings by traditional brides.

And all of these elements - Old, Borrowed, Blue and New - popped into my head during a recent listening to the Soundroots Record Out of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of Oliver Nelson [SR04].

The disc features the playing of Dick De Graaf on soprano and tenor saxophones, Arno Krijger on Hammond Organ and Bass Pedals and Pascal Vermeer on drums and, as stated in the subheading, all of the tunes were penned by the great composer Oliver Nelson [1932-1975].

But although you’ve probably heard many of these songs before on such iconic Oliver Nelson albums as Blues and the Abstract Truth and More Blues and The Abstract Truth, et al., I doubt that you’ve heard heard Oliver’s music played in this manner.

To digress for a moment, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the legendary Hammond B-3 organist, Jimmy Smith, had recorded with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane?

The result may have been sort of like a bluesy, funky, gospel-based Hammond organ sound melded with Coltrane’s matrix or cycle changes [chromatic third relations or multi-tonic changes] all propelled by the polyrhythms of drummer, Elvin Jones.

Jimmy Smith had “elephant ears,” a term that’s used in the music business to describe someone who can almost immediately transpose to an instrument something he hears played by another musician.

I don’t think it would have taken him long to pick up on the harmonic variations or substitute chords that Coltrane favored.

While never a boogaloo-beat, bar-walking, belter, Coltrane’s big, blustery tenor saxophone tone could have easily blended in with Jimmy’s intense organ playing had Jimmy adopted some of John’s harmonic substitutions, especially with Elvin Jones, John’s long-standing drummer, holding things together in the drum chair.

Another unifying element for John and Jimmy might have been the late saxophonist, composer and arranger, Oliver Nelson  [1932-1975].

Jimmy recorded several big band albums with Oliver for Verve and Impulse in the 1960’s and some of Oliver’s charts [arrangements] on these sessions pushed Smith in the direction of the new harmonies favored by Coltrane, although the rhythmic basis for the music remained basically straight-ahead with huge infusions of funky, in-the-pocket beats.

Alas, the three never met as Coltrane passed away in 1967, Oliver moved to Hollywood to write for television and the movies and Jimmy Smith also moved west to open his own club in North Hollywood where he held forth for many years playing his funky and soulful style of Jazz.

And my view that Oliver’s compositions would have been the catalyst for bringing the disparate styles of John Coltrane and Jimmy Smith together is further reaffirmed by this excerpt from the insert notes to Out of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of Oliver Nelson [SR04] which observes:

Oliver Nelson’s timeless compositions are infused with subtle variations on the traditional chord changes associated with the blues. This virtuosity is exactly why his work still inspires today’s improvising musicians.

However, inspiring is one thing, making it happen is quite another.

And Dick de Graaf, Pascal Vermeer and Arno Krijger really make it happen on Out of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of Oliver Nelson.

This is an outstanding recording from every perspective: Oliver Nelson’s music is brilliantly interpreted in an entirely different setting and what is “old” and borrowed” is quickly superseded by that which is “blue” and “new.”

The context may be the traditional tenor sax-organ-drums trio, but you have never heard it sound like this before.

De Graaf, Vermeer and Krijger introduce a Coltrane-like harmonic orientation, Hammond B-3 electronic edginess and a polyrhythmic complexity that are all very much the sounds of Jazz today.

Not only do they re-invent the tenor sax-organ-drums platform, but they also give Oliver Nelson’s music a new texture.

Dick de Graaf plays tenor with assurance and facility. His solos flow so smoothly that the listener is never prepared for the angularity they suddenly assume which takes them in surprising directions. He never seems to be at a loss for improvisational ideas

Arno Krijger plays Hammond and its related organ pedals, not like a pianist, but like an organist. There is nothing dainty about his approach to the instrument which, in the hands of a less adept player, can be an overpowering.  But that’s exactly what Arno bringing to it - power in just the right amount of proportion.

Pascal Vermeer’s drumming constantly drives the music forward with new combinations of backbeats, triplets and bass drum punctuations. His drumming is unrelenting but never overwhelming.

Each is a virtuoso player, with technique in abundance. But they listen to one another and complement and supplement one another’s efforts.

Most of all I found the music to be fun; as stated - a celebration of the music of Oliver Nelson.

The insert notes to Out of the Blues: Celebrating the Music of Oliver Nelson conclude with this statement:

“Out Of The Blues takes on the challenge of playing Nelson's repertoire - mainly written for big bands and large ensembles - using only a trio. By doing so, tunes like Blues and the Abstract Truth, Teenies Blues, Images, and Elegy for a Duck are even better at revealing the intricacies of high-quality modern jazz.”

John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson never made the gig together in their lifetimes, but Dick de Graaf, Pascal Vermeer and Arno Krijger's homage to Oliver Nelson's blues-inflected compositions no doubt has them somewhere smiling in approval and in appreciation.

Here’s a sampling of the music on offer is this exciting, new CD. The tune is Oliver’s Teenie’s Blues.

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