Thursday, March 2, 2017

Afro Cuban - Kenny Dorham

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

Here’s another of our features based around favorite recordings, this time focusing on trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s Afro Cuban album for Blue Note which has been reissued on CD as CDP 7 46815 2.

Leonard Feather, the distinguished Jazz critic, producer and author of The Encyclopedia of Jazz, wrote the following insert notes Afro Cuban, Kenny’s first session for Blue Note as a leader

“THE contents of this LP provide a revealing dual portrait of Kenny Dorham. One side of him, the side with the Afro-Cuban leanings, can be observed in the first four tunes, featuring an eight-piece band, previously released on a 10" LP. The other side, both of Kenny and of the record, can be observed in the last three tunes, which were recorded with a quintet and have never previously been released.

It has taken McKinley Howard Dorham quite a few years to earn the recognition that should have been his during the middle 1940s. For a long time, during the halcyon era of the bop movement, Kenny was Mr, Available for every trumpet choir in every band and combo. If Dizzy wasn't around and Howard McGhee was out of town, there was always Kenny. And so it went from abou! 1945 to '51, always in the shadow of those who had been first to establish themselves in the vanguard of the new jazz.

Slowly, in the past few years, Kenny has emerged from behind this bop bushel to show the individual qualities (hot were ultimately to mark him for independent honors. Numerous chores as a sideman on record dates for various small companies led to his inclusion in the important Horace Silver Quintet dotes for Blue Note (BLP 1518), and, as a result of his fine work on these occasions, to the signing of a Blue Note contract and his first date for this label as a combo leader on his own.

If the Kenny Dorham Story were ever made into a movie (and the way things are going in Hollywood at the moment, don't let anything surprise you) it would begin on a ranch near Fairfield, Texas on August 30,1924. The actor playing Kenny as a child would be shown listening to his mother and sister playing the piano and his father strumming blues on the guitar.

Then there would be the high school scenes in Austin, Texas, with Kenny taking up piano and trumpet but spending much of his time on the school boxing team; and later the sojourn at Wiley College, where he played in the band with Wild Bill Davis as well as majoring in chemistry. In his spare time Kenny would be seen making his first stabs at composing and arranging.

After almost a year in the Army (during which his pugilistic prowess came to the fore on the Army boxing team) Kenny went back 1o Texas, joining Russell Jacquet's band in Houston late in 1943 and spending much of 1944 with the bond of Frank Humphries.

From 1945 to '48 Kenny was on the road with several big bands, including those of Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and Mercer Ellington in that order. Then he spent the best part of two years playing clubs as part of the Charlie Parker Quintet. Lurking on the edge of the limelight occupied by the immortal Bird, he began to lure a little individual attention as something more than the section man and occasional soloist he had been for so long. One of his important breaks was a trip to Paris with Bird in 1949 to take part in the Jazz Festival.

Settling permanently in New York, Kenny became a freelance musician whose services alongside such notabilities as Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk and Mary Lou Williams gradually impressed his name and style on jazz audiences.

During 1954-5 Kenny worked most frequently around the east with a combo that constitutes the nucleus of the outfit heard on these sides - Hank Mobley, Horace Silver and Art Blakey.

Mobley is an Eastman, Georgia product, born there in 1930 but raised in New Jersey. Making his start with Paul Gayten in 1950, he rose to prominence with Max Roach's combos off and on from 1951 -53 and with Dizzy in '54.

Mobley as well as Silver and Blakey are of course familiar figures at Blue Note, abundantly represented in the catalogue through their sessions with the Jazz Messengers (1507,1508,1518). Horace and Art are also on such other sessions as the Horace Silver trio (1520) and A Night At Birdland (1521,1522).

Jay Jay Johnson, whose eminence was saluted on 1505 and 1506, was recently elected the "Greatest Ever" by a jury of 100 of his peers in the Encyclopedia Yearbook of Jazz "Musicians' Musicians" poll.

Cecil McKenzie Payne, a baritone sax man with a long and distinguished record in modern jazz circles, is a 34-year-old Brooklynite whose career as a bopper began right after his release from the Army in 1946 and took him through the U.S. and Europe with Dizzy Gillespie until '49, when he began freelancing in New York with Tadd Dameron, James Moody and Illinois Jacquet.

Carlos "Potato" Valdes, the conga drummer; come over from Cuba a couple of years ago. It was Gillespie who first told Kenny Dorham about him and "Little Benny" Harris who dug him up and brought him to Kenny's rehearsal. "He gassed them all," recalls Alfred Lion succinctly.

Completing the octet, Oscar Pettiford provides the indomitable boss sound that won him the Esquire Gold Award in 1944 and '45 and the Down Seat Critics' poll in 1953.

For the four tunes with the Afro-Cuban rhythm motif, Kenny says, "I tried to write everything so that the rhythm would be useful throughout and would never get in the way." As a consequence, the Cuban touch sounds as if it is a part of the whole, rather than something that has been superimposed on a jazz scene, as is sometimes the case.

Afrodisia is a title that has been used before, but this is a new composition. The theme and interpretation recall somewhat the Gillespie approach to material of this type. Like the patriot who is plus royaliste que le roi, Kenny and his cohorts achieve a more interesting and more Cuban atmosphere here than you will hear on many performances emanating direct from Havana. The "Potato" is really cooking on this one.

Lotus Flower, after Horace's attractive intro, shows how the Cuban percussion idea can be applied effectively to a slow, pretty melody. Jay Jay's solo, though short, has a melancholy quality that compliments the mood set by Kenny's delicately phrased work here.

Minor's Holiday didn't get that title only because of its minor key; it was also named for Minor Robinson, a trumpet player in New Haven. A mood-setting rising phrase characterizes the opening chorus, leading into a loosely swinging, pinpoint-toned trumpet solo that shows, like all his work on this date, the high degree of individuality Kenny has achieved. Mobley and Jay Jay also have superior solos.

The session ends with an original commissioned by Kenny from Gigi Gryce, the talented ex-Hampton reedman. Basheer's Dream has a minor mood of singular intensity sustained by Kenny, Hank and Jay Jay, with Valdes and Blakey allied as a potent percussion team and Horace, the Connecticut Cuban, contributing some discreet punctuations.

The reverse side features four of the principal protagonists from the Afro-Cuban dale — Dorham, Mobley, Payne and Blakey - with Percy Heath of Modern Jazz Quartet fame replacing Pettiford. The session opens with K. D.'s Motion, a medium-paced blues, partly in unison and portly voiced. After an eight-measure bridge, Kenny dives into four choruses of fluent ab libbing. The blues being at once the lowest and highest common denominator of oil true jazzmen, Kenny is greatly at ease here, the solo offering a first-rate sample of his ideation and continuity. Payne, Mobley and Silver also cook freely before the theme returns at the end of this effective five-minute exploration of the 12-bar tradition.

The Villa, another Dorham original like all the music on these sides, is a melodic theme that could make a good pop song, though at this fast tempo it serves as a fine framework for trumpet, tenor and baritone solos, with Horace comping enthusiastically like a coach urging his team on from the sidelines. Kenny and Art trade fours for 24 measures before the ensemble returns.

Venita's Dance is a rhythmic yet somehow reflective and wistful theme, taken at a medium pace. Kenny's solo, constructed mostly in downward phrases, maintains the mood established in the opening chorus, after which Mobley's virile, assertive tone and style are in evidence, followed by excellent samples of Payne and Silver.

Whichever side of Kenny Dorham intrigues you most, whether you dig him particularly as composer or trumpeter, Afro-Cuban specialist or mainstream jazzman, most of what you will hear on this disc will offer a high protein diet of musical satisfaction.”                                                                   

The CD’s producer Michael Cuscuna added this postscript about its two additional tracks:

K.D’s Cob Ride was an unfitted composition that first came out in Japan in the early 80's in a boxed set anthology entitled The Other Side Of the 1500 Series. We titled it as such because Hank Mobley confirmed that it was a Kenny Dorham composition and was the sort of tune that he might write in the cab on the way to a record date. It has since come to light that Kenny had already titled this piece "Echo of Spring" The alternate take of "Minors Holiday" preceded the master take in recording order and was marked on the session logs as being equal to the master take.”

You can check out Afrodisia, the opening track of Afro Cuban, on the following video montage.

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