Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sam Noto - Noto-Riety

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

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 October 17, 1978, Sam Noto/Noto-Riety [Xanadu 168] features Sam along with Sam Most, flute, Dolo Coker on piano, Monty Budwig on bass and Frank Butler on drums with the following liner notes by Andrew Sussman.

“The cliche is in itself notorious — the underrated jazzman; talented but ignored, starving, unappreciated, forgotten. Well, Sam Noto is not starving: not anymore. He got the lucrative Toronto studio scene to help support him and his family. And with nine appearances on LP on Xanadu, one could hardly claim that he has been forgotten, either, though his resurgence has been a recent one.

Yet Nolo-Riety is more than a play on words, for as the trumpeter's jazz work becomes more and more available to the public his talents quite naturally become more appreciated; his ability more notorious. But he's still "underrated," and in a world of vastly inferior musical minds, many of which have been practically idolized despite their thin crust of talent, this is a monstrous sin.

In any case, Sam Noto has never let this injustice affect his art. His trumpet playing remains fluid and versatile and technically virtuosic. It's bebop at its finest, and the influence of Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro is clearly evident in each note he blows. But his own personality has evolved over the years, and his style is now individualistic and clearly identifiable. His tone is warm and full; his sensitive reading of ballads so lyrical that it sounds as if he must be playing the flugelhorn rather than the usually harsher trumpet, but he's not. Like Clifford 8rown, he is able to shape the instrument to his own needs; to create within the confines of the horn several identities. Each is viable — and each is his own.

Pairing Sam Noto with the innovative jazz flutist Sam Most might seem a natural action, their styles are so similar; their mutual understanding of melodic construction so obviously compatible. But it wasn't until 1978 that the two Sams actually met in a jazz context. It was producer Don Schlitten who instigated the session: first bringing them together for a concert at Montreux in the summer of that year, and then flying out to Los Angeles for what he called a "marathon international recording session" which resulted in five separate albums by different leaders. Kenny Drew came in from Copenhagen to record the first date on October 15 with Leroy Vinnegar and Frank Butter (Home Is Where The Soul Is, X 166); they were joined by Sam Noto (in from Toronto) and saxophonist Charles McPherson the next day (For Sure!, X 167). October 17 found Butler remaining and Dolo Coker and Monty Budwig rounding out the group for this LP. On October 18 and 19, Xanadu presented the "Two Sams' Band" at Donte's in North Hollywood. Leonard Feather noted in the Los Angeles Times that "Though they have seen service with name bands (Sam Most with Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich, Noto with Bellson, Basie and Kenton), both men have put in more than their share of time in the stultifying atmosphere of Las Vegas." He then went on to mention that "Justice should demand that the history books document Most's role as the first truly creative jazz flutist...he is a rhythmically engaging performer whose peppery, witty style may take hold of a set of chord changes and never let go for a half-dozen beautifully constructed choruses." Of Noto. Feather stated: "His sound is clear and strong, his style cast in the Clifford Brown mold. If he were free to play jazz full time, he might well develop into a major force on the horn."

Feather went on to describe the rest of the band. "Pianist Dolo Coker, a bebopper of the Bud Powell school, knows the value of understatement, often holding his considerable technique in reserve... Monty Budwig is everybody's dependable bassist, supple and swinging … Frank Butler, conceivably the most underrated drummer in Los Angeles."

But don't lake Leonard Feather's word for it—the evidence is here on this LP, and it's the type of proof which is a constant pleasure to verify.

With all that magnificent music, one might have thought that Don Schlitten would have been satisfied, but he wasn't. As he dryly related the story: "We took the next day off, and October 22 found Frank Butler leading Dolo and Monty with the added two tenors of Joe Farrell and Teddy Edwards (Wheelin' and Dealin', X 169). On October 23, Charles McPherson returned as a leader with Monty Budwig, Lou Levy, Charles McPherson Jr.,drums, and Kevin Jones (congas). Thit session also marked Xanadu debut of guitarist Peter Sprague Free Bop!, (X 170)." Phew! Quite a week!

Anyway, back to the session enclosed, pairing a trumpet and a flute, what might be a dangerous combination in less professional hands. Sam later stated with thai characteristic modesty that "I thought the session went well. We played a few times together, and I thought it was good, I was happy with the thing," which has to go down as the understatement of the year, at least as far as we are concerned as listeners.

The tunes are all originals, composed by Noto, and illustrate a fine sense of chord structure and melody. Fine Wine starts things off on a brisk, cheerful uptempo mood. Sam Noto's solo is fast and aggressive showing off not only his brilliant technical control but the ever-inventive mind behind it. Sam Most follows in his inimitable style, seeming to lay behind the best and yet pounce directly upon it at the same time. Dolo Coker adds some adept piano statements, and the two horn players trade eights with Butler, building the excitement to a climax, and then restate the theme in unison. It should be mentioned that the mix throughout the record is excellent and one is never left with the feeling that either of the horns overpowers the other, a constant problem with diverse instruments.

To Me Everything Happens is remindful of Everything Happens to Me. Sam Noto improvises masterfully from the very beginning, weaving his way through a lyrical masterpiece with ease and grace; phrasing each chorus with sensitivity and an almost tangible feeling of compassion. Dolo maintains the fantasy with a beautifully crafted solo which is simultaneously simple and complex, and almost floats over the changes, before Noto returns — proffering his warmth once again. Credit must be given to Monty Budwig and Frank Butler who, as they do throughout the proceedings, provide intelligent, empathetic support which goes so far beyond mere accompaniment: it adds a vital spice and flavor which truly helps distinguish this session as a special one.

Spanish Coffee is light and Happy, with a subtle latin feel. Both of the Sams show great facility and depth in their solos.

Sunbird takes the tempo up once again, and as Sam Noto related it, "I just wanted to put Bird's name in there somewhere and I came up with that name while looking through a magazine." With typical reverence, energy is the focus as everyone solos, including some particularly emotive fours traded between bass and drums.

Lady Arleen is named for Sam's wife and it’s a thoughtful, beautiful portrait which drawn. Note's muted trumpet is poignant and revealing with Sam Most's flute offering an appropriately exhilarating contrast.

Noto-Riety rounds out the session, and its funky, medium tempo provides the perfect vehicle for both Sams to stretch out at length. Most's distinct tonguing and breathy timbre are utilized to good advantage here, and his technique is enviable but never needlessly furious or showmany. Noto follow, with several moving, soulful, searching choruses and Dolo Coker and Monty Budwig both offer us one final opportunity to listen in awe to their uniquely swinging voices.

The history of all these artists has been documented so often in the past that I can't see repeating it here. Sam Noto's biography is outlined particularly well by Mark Gardner on the notes to his first LP as a leader—Entrance! (Xanadu 103).

Since moving to Toronto in 1975 Sam has recorded a great deal for Xanadu — but still not received the recognition or acclaim necessary to allow him to support himself playing jazz. "I've just stayed out here and had to do ail this studio crap," he candidly admits. "I sent out a big bunch of press kits, tryin' to get some gigs, to go out and play — but I haven't had too many calls." He says he does "odds and ends" and 'just can't seem to get into jazz full time, as I would like to." For the moment he accepts that philosophically. But as Sam's notoriety grows — and it is bound to with the release of this album — I feel confident that the situation will be promptly rectified. As all will perceive who listen to his music, that day cannot come soon enough.”

Recording: ARNE FRAGER
Produced and Directed by DON SCHUTTEN

1 comment:

  1. Interesting set of features. Sam Noto is known primarily to Torontonians as one of the key members of Rob McConnell's Boss Brass (though he was overshadowed somewhat in the trumpet section by Guido Basso). Haven't heard much about him post-mid 1980s, though.


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