Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sam Noto - Act One

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

“Like most instrumentalists who also compose, Noto reveals in his written lines a flow akin to his trumpet emanations.”
- Ira Gitler

From 1975 - 1980, the brilliant Jazz trumpet player, Sam Noto, made four LPs for Don Schlitten’s Xanadu record label none of which have made it into broader, digital circulation.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to highlight Sam and his Xanadu recordings in four, separate postings before combining these into one, comprehensive feature about Sam and the other recordings he played on for Xanadu as a sideman during this period, most notably on one in which he teamed up with bebop trumpet legend, Red Rodney.

Not only are Jazz fans indebted to Don for recording Sam at the peak of his career but also for turning to four knowledgeable Jazz authors to prepare the liner notes to these LPs each of which provide a wealth of information about Sam’s background, his style of playing, the musicians on the various dates and the song selections.

Recorded on December 1,1975, Sam Noto/Act One [Xanadu 127] features Sam along with Joe Romano, tenor sax, Barry Harris on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Billy Higgins on drums with the following liner notes by Ira Gitler.

“After a series of "Now, coach?" frustrations Sam Noto's virtuoso brilliance was finally revealed beyond the circle of his musical associates by a recording he made in trumpet tandem with Red Rodney during 1974 [Red Rodney Plays Superbop with Sam Noto [Muse 5046]. When the producer of that date, Don Schlitten, formed Xanadu Records, he helped bring Noto's talent more clearly into focus with Sam's debut as a recording leader. Entrance! [Xanadu 103) is a quartet date in which his is the sole horn, spotlighted against vivid backdrop of Barry Harris, Leroy Vinnegar and Lenny McBrowne. The locale of this recording session was Los Angeles because, at the time, Noto was still living and working in Las Vegas.

In Act One the action shifts to New York, Sam having moved to Toronto, and the cast of characters is altered in several instances. Harris remains on stage but this time he is joined by the solid, sensitive duo of [bassist] Sam Jones and [drummer] Billy Higgins. At the  center of the proscenium with Noto is his compatriot of long standing, [tenor saxophonist] Joe Romano. The last time they had played together was in a Carl Fontana sextet at the Silver Slipper in Vegas, circa '68.

Noto heralded his Entrance! with two of his own originals, the title number and one dedicated to his daughter, Jen-Jen. For Act One it was decided to showcase more of Sam's compositions. Like most instrumentalists who also compose, Noto reveals in his written lines a flow akin to his trumpet emanations. Romano describes them as "intricate" and admits that they're tricky to negotiate. There had been a considerable time lapse since Sam and Joe last blew together, in the mid-60's in Sam's quintet at the Renaissance in Buffalo.

"We never have to talk about the music," says Sam in pointing out the great empathy that has existed between them from the early 50's when Joe (from Rochester) and Sam (from Buffalo) began communicating amidst the then active scene in upstate New York.

Renaissance was Noto's own jazz coffee house and it was thriving — up to a point. Success in the jazz club business is not easily accomplished by purveying capuccino. When Sam applied for a wine and beer license, he was refused due to Renaissance's geographical proximity to a YMCA. This turn of events forced him to give up the club and set out for Las Vegas and a steady paycheck.

If you've read Mark Gardner's fine liner notes for Entrance! you know that Sam finally had to split from the "Strip" in 1975. In Toronto he is enjoying a chance for self-expression with jazz gigs at George's Spaghetti House and Mother Necessity. He has also had the opportunity to display his solo talents in his native city through appearances at the University of Buffalo and McKinley High School, as well as at clubs such as Mulligan's and Ericson's.

Romano, known for his work with Woody Herman in the '50's and '60's, played with Buddy Rich, off and on, in the 1968-70 period and was featured with the drummer's band in 1972-74. In 1975 he moved to New York where he has worked with Chuck Israels' National Jazz Ensemble and on occasion with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. On his last tour of duty with Rich he was on alto but he is back to his main love, the tenor. He is, in Noto's words, "a natural player."

That coincides with what I hear, sincerity that is evident in every phrase he plays. I don't think Romano could blow a dishonest note if he tried. This love of and for the music comes through unmistakably. Some of us became aware of this when he recorded with Chuck Mangione back in the early 60's on an album called Recuerdo. Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were early inspirations for Joe and, like most tenormen of the period in which he matured, he talks with reverence for Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. On listening you hear that Sonny is his main man, the Rollins of the years before that giant decided he had to promise to be au courant. It is a pure, beautiful, swinging language and Romano speaks it fluently.

Another man whose sincerity, integrity and pursuit of life-pulsing beauty are well-known entities is pianist Barry Harris. Barry has been on so many Xanadu sessions he is beginning to take on the appearance of Kubla Khan's high priest. When Don Schlitten asks him to step in, his musical response is invariably the equivalent of "Khan Dhu." Harris, whose own albums are Plays Tadd Dameron (Xanadu 113) and Live In Tokyo (Xanadu 130), always inspires the hornmen as well as taking care of his solo spots with deceptive ease.

Sam Jones is another Xanadu leader (Cello Again, Xanadu 129) whose bass graces many a date for the company in a supporting role. He is a disciple of Oscar Pettiford and this no nonsense approach to the instrument is one that is strongly appreciated by his fellows.

Billy Higgins and Jones most often are part of the Cedar Walton trio but they are just as much at home with Harris. Together the three supply a flotation-rotation that grooves as it moves on zephyr-like hooves.

Act One, Noto's Latinate adaptation of Well You Needn't (the bridge is different) opens Act One. The party of the first part is Romano who comes out burning from the git-go. Noto is next and, as he is throughout, far more relaxed than usual. The fire is still there, however, but more importantly so is the warmth which so many of the later lineal descendants of Clifford Brown seem to lack, whatever their attributes. But then Sam had the advantage of hearing Diz, Miles and, especially, Fats Navarro before Brownie even got to him. Higgins is buoyant in his exchanges with the horns.

The medley which follows is made up of three great ballads that are not rare enough to be cliches: I Should Care featuring Harris; What Is There to Say by Romano; and You Are Too Beautiful by Noto.

Aries, indicative of the birth sign of both hornmen, has an out-of-tempo intro, reveried by the two rams, that evolves into a restless, modal swinger. Perhaps due to the modal character, traces of Trane and Miles surface here in Romano and Noto, respectively.

A mellow tempo and lovely melodic-harmonic structure mark Upstate Association, Sam evokes Brownie with a gorgeous brass sound and grace-noted accents. Joe lays back and lays on heavy applications of muscular authority and Barry does some controlled stone-skipping on the tops of the cumuli.

Wavelength is a bright treatment of You Stepped Out of a Dream with Romano reading off in anything but a trancelike attitude; Harris working-out in his best chord-devouring manner; and Noto singing through his mouthpiece like a machine gun shooting love bullets. The melodic dancing on the traps is by the delicately powerful Higgins.

Contact may give you That Old Feeling. The feeling it gives me is that of a hip parade band walking it right down Main Street at the point where they're into a second strain, volume down. The horns are lyrical and Barry throws in a Groovin’ High quote to give it the bop of approval. Jones' only solo of the set brings the Pettiford spirit to life.

In a liner note for a Sal Nistico album in the '60's Gene Lees commented on the "gifted group of young musicians to emerge recently from the wilds of upstate New York" and stated: "Trying to figure out why they should have come up in the unpromising vicinity of the Syracuse-Rochester area and all be Italian is probably as futile as trying to learn why a weirdly large number of the world's great concert violinists are not only Jewish, but members of Russian Jewish families from Odessa!"

To Syracuse and Rochester could be added Buffalo, Utica and Troy. The Italian delegation includes J.R. Monterose, Sal Nistico, Gus Mancuso, Sal Amico, Chuck and Gap Mangione, Don Menza, Nick Brignola and, of course, that potent upstate association of Noto and Romano,

This is Noto's Act One in six scenes. Let the play begin.”

Produced & Directed by DON SCHLITTEN

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