Sunday, May 31, 2020

J.J. Johnson Quintet featuring Bobby Jaspar

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

Bobby Jaspar's playing on these recordings is a revelation. Hardly anyone seems to know about these sides. Everyone is familiar with the quintet that J.J. and Kai Winding formed and the sextet that J.J. had with Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Jordan, and Cedar Walton, but these LPs seem to have dropped from sight J.J.'s arranging skills are on full display and Jaspar gets a rich tone on the flute in addition to displaying a Zoot-like facility on tenor sax. Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan are their light and lyrical selves and Elvin Jones' playing displays variety and a driving beat instead of the never ending triplets he played behind 'Trane. Wilbur Little’s strong bass lines hold it all together and provide a driving pulse for the band.

JJ. Johnson's great 1956-1957 quintet played modem jazz with authority, imagination, taste and feeling. Its leader was the trombonist of the era, much emulated and admired by his peers. The Belgian-born Jaspar, who had recently won the International Jazz Critics' New Star Award on tenor, proved an ideal foil and a capable modern-mainstream tenor sax and flutist, contributing impressively on both instruments. Flanagan, a superbly swinging pianist, also made an indelible mark on the group, which was graced initially with another bop piano great, Hank Jones, while Little and Elvin Jones' support throughout is admirable. It was an exhilarating band that fully displayed Johnson's well-rounded musicianship.

Fortunately, all of these LPs have been collected on a double CD set and issued as The Complete Recordings of the J.J. Johnson Quintet Featuring Bobby Jaspar. [Fresh Sound FSR CD-538].

JAY JAY JOHNSON QUINTET: JJ. Johnson, trombone; Bobby Jaspar, tenor sax & flute; Hank Jones [on CD 1 #1-7] or Tommy Flanagan [on CD 1 #8-15 & CD 2], piano; Percy Heath [on CD 1 # 1-3] or Wilbur Little [on CD 1 #4-15 & CD 21, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.
Recorded (CD1) in New York, July 24 (#1-3), July 25 (#4-7), July 27 (#8-10), 1956 and January 29 (#11-15), 1957.
Recorded (CD2) in New York, January 31 (#1-4), May 14 (#5- 7), and Live "Cafe Bohemia" New York, February, 1957. 

More details about this exceptional band and these recordings are available in the following original liner notes.

Origina! liner notes from Columbia CL935 - J Is For Jazz

“J. J. Johnson, considered by many to be the originator and leading exponent of the modern jazz trombone style, has until recently been the co-leader, with the extraordinary Kai Winding, of a quintet featuring two trombones with rhythm section. Their work together on Columbia, with their quintet (CL T42) and with a trombone octet (CL 892), is one of the highlights of the Columbia jazz catalog, but is also of a kind which has proven popular with the public at large. The same bids fair to be true with the groups they have just formed independently of one another.

The J. J. Johnson Quintet makes one change in instrumentation, but it is an important one. In Kai's old spot, one finds Bobby Jaspar, tenor saxophonist and flutist extraordinary. Bobby, while new to the American scene, is well known in Europe. As Belgium's leading jazzman, Bobby won critics' awards and public acclaim all over the continent for his fine contemporary-style playing. Now a permanent resident of the United States, this is his debut before the American public. His appearance in this album is by special arrangement with the company for which he records exclusively - Pathe-Marconi, subsidiary of Electrical and Mechanical Industries, Ltd. [EMI or the forerunner of the company that would come to own the iconic Blue Note Records label.]

As these recordings were made on the eve of J J's launching of his new Quintet, it was impossible to line up the same rhythm section for each session. The changes of personnel are as follows: for Angel Eyes, Overdrive, and Undecided, Hank Jones played piano and Percy Heath played bass. On Tumbleweeds, Solar, Never Let Me Go, and Cube Steak, Wilbur Little replaced Heath. The remaining tunes were made with Tommy Flanagan in place of Hank Jones. The drummer throughout was Elvin Jones, Hank's brother.

All the arrangements in this set are by J. J, himself. As usual, he has chosen a repertoire which is anything but overdone, and he has also written three originals. Naptown U.S.A. commemorates his home town of Indianapolis; astute ferreting by the musically minded will also turn up another reason for this association. J. J. can't explain why Indianapolis is known locally as "Naptown," but this Johnson original is anything but sleepy. It Might as Well Be Spring and Never Let Me Go are lovely ballads which gave Bobby Jaspar an opportunity to blend his rich flute tone with J. J.'s trombone; obviously this combination gives the Quintet a distinctive "second round."

Tumbling Tumbleweed is an unexpected vehicle for a jazz group; J. J. explains that the idea occurred to him when he heard a trio in Chicago give it a swinging treatment once, and he has finally had an opportunity to try it out himself, with the fine results which can be heard here, Matt Dennis' Angel Eyes makes a fine dead-slow ballad for the group, and equally tailor-made in a different vein are two bouncy originals from the bop school. Miles Davis' Solar and Charlie Parker's Chasin’ the Bird. Overdrive and Cube Steak are two up-tempo compositions by J. J. which are written especially for this group."                                                    —George Avakian

Original liner notes from Columbia CL1684 Dial JJ5

“Underlying all of J. J. Johnson's musical efforts and reaching a new maturity in the work of his Quintet, is a considerable erudition in jazz forms. But he carries his learning lightly and does not bore us with an archeological study of the dry bones of technique. By the time he puts the show on the road, the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone and the shin bone to the knee bone — and in the aliveness of the music, sometimes jaunty, sometimes serious, you can, if you wish, forget anatomy lessons. Nevertheless, let's review them briefly, for the record.

As Jay's talent matures, and that of the Quintet with it, the parallel of devices used to those employed by small orchestral groups generally, becomes apparent and we see how he has gradually enlarged the area of his musical interests and, in the process, improved upon his superlative craftsmanship, Like the playing of the Modern Jazz Quartet, that of the Quintet recalls a period in concert music, some three centuries ago, when improvisation was commonplace.

All of this began, for Jay, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was born on January 22,1924, the oldest of three children (given name, James Louis Johnson). Beginning at about the age of nine, he studied piano for two years with a private teacher, the organist of the church the family attended. His two sisters also studied piano and they often practiced trios and duets together. An interest in jazz was stimulated by teen-age friends, his "buddies" at Crispus Attucks High School in 1937.

"Every Saturday night," said J. J., "my friends and I went to the local dance hall to watch and hear the big bands — Lunceford, Basie, Ellington, Hampton — these were our favorites and we worshipped them. It was then I realized that this would be my life's work." Following that momentous decision, he joined the high school band for beginners. He wanted to play saxophone but the only one available for practice was a baritone, which was not his first choice. Although he studied saxophone, he soon became attracted to trombone and, as he explains it, "My interest and curiosity about the trombone began to increase to the point that I gave up my saxophone studies (1938)."

His father got him a trombone from a pawn-shop and Jay learned to play it in the high school band and orchestra. On Sundays he rehearsed with the YMCA band, playing marches and light concert music. Eventually, his friends at Crispus Attucks — who had formed a small dance orchestra —- invited him to sit in at rehearsals and soon after this he became a regular member of the band, playing for school dances and neighborhood social events. By that time, he recalled, "I had also become interested in arranging and composing, and began to learn both."

When Jay graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1941 his parents, understandably, wanted him to go to college. Jay understandably, wanted to join a big band and travel. Well, you can guess the outcome — Jay won them over and joined the ''territory" band led by "Snookum" Russell.

Cool, in its most popular meaning, refers to a tendency towards understatement that one often finds in modern jazz and, in some instances to an extension of bop harmonic innovation in search of bland and cool sounds. Like any other kind of jazz, it can be good or God- awful. (Those in search of further enlightenment might bone up on the role of the trombone in Feather's "The Book of Jazz," a Horizon Press book of this year.) Both periods are now history, the styles having been to some extent assimilated. 

The use of linear rhythmic patterns has perhaps helped to encourage a return to blues intonation (including the use of rich sonorities) though with less use of vibrato, and with various shades of timbre such as funky and hard bop. (The latter refers also to structure.)

As space allows, I'll indicate some of the interesting sounds provided in this album: Teapot In this tempest in a teapot, Jay's terse broken-off phrasing becomes a sort of abrupt angularity that contrasts to his sinuous legato line or, as later in the piece, to the burgeoning of tone when he is blowing and swinging that is the very birth of jazz sound. In Bobby's clipped chorus (on tenor) he demonstrates how to hold a tiger. Tommy Flanagan, who can approach the keyboard with the full power of both hands (as on So Sorry Please) concentrates on treble to make room for the bass of Wilbur Little, moving with such dexterity that, with the drums of Elvin Jones, it seems to cushion the music, This thoroughly satisfying composition concludes with the two horns playing in a dark, almost somber tonality.

Barbados There is an amusingly disciplined use of Latin-American rhythms, followed by rich sonorities as the horns state the theme of this Charlie Parker composition, Jay's chorus has an easy, deftly athletic quality. On this, in contrast to the previous cut, Bobby's tone, though not rough, has more English on it; it is at once lyrical and strong in definition. Tommy, a cool cat, gets off the ground.

In A Little Provincial Town. This quiet mood piece has an almost classical loveliness, especially in the flute chorus, with its delicately interwoven harmonies (and what sounds like deliberate over-blowing, not a casual accomplishment) — and in the subdued, muted trombone.

Cette Chose. Opens with clipped, cool ensemble Jay, playing superbly, sets the scene for Bobby, parts of whose tenor chorus, were it not for the inspiration driving it, would fall into the category of expertising. Melodically it is understatement, conveyed with a controlled intensity of rhythm. In this chorus Bobby — who has considerable versatility of approach — seems to throw lines away. He is like a veteran actor laying booby traps for the ears and, like the veteran actor, he always knows the complete statement. On the chorus that climaxes the time, his tenor jumps like a pneumatic drill on a hot dig.

Blue Haze. This lovely melody by Miles Davis has an unusual and appropriate rhythm introduction. A thoughtful, beautifully-phrased statement by string bass is climaxed by a shattering drum roll, followed by a cymbal rhythm to which the piano adds its voice. Once the introduction is over, the featured instrument (which I described in my notes for "J and K") makes its entry. In his playing of it [valve trombone] Jay, in the quality of his intonation, combines the dignity of concert brass with the guttiness of honky-tonk horn. His fantastic technique on this valve instrument, which enables him to raise it to the dignity of a respected member of the brass family, never is allowed to overshadow his strong sense of music and of melody. Bobby's phrasing on tenor, always assured, is especially enjoyable, and Tommy's piano has a restrained jump.

Love Is Here To Stay. Few jazzmen can touch J. J. in the imaginative lyricism of his swinging: balladry. An old master at this form of the jazz maker's art, he demonstrates it with a long, luxurious chorus, in a warm intonation, that displays the scope of his improvisational talent.

So Sorry Please. Naturally, there are other things to hear, but let's single out the piano for mention. Tommy opens with a full-bodied, two-fisted solo and then, as he assigns the heavy work to the right hand, is paced by Wilbur's articulate bass (in a walking mood) — then there is a return to full piano style in this, a most welcome and generous introduction to the work of Tommy Flanagan.

It Could Happen To You. The introductory flute passages are classic, delicately wrought, as Bobby opens in concert style, then gets off on a winsome jazz frolic. Perhaps indicative of the authority of contemporary jazz technique, there is no hiatus between the two.

Bird Song. This tune is by Thad, one of the Jones boys from Pontiac and Elvin's brother, From the rich sonorities that open it, to the closing bars, there is structural strength and compositional directness. Like Tea Pot, it is a first-rate jazz piece. Toward the close of the exuberant performance Jay plays a quietly explosive chorus, conveyed in an easy, gently deceptive swing. On first listening it sounds like a walk in the park, on second, like a romp and, finally, like a controlled rumpus!

Old Devil Moon. Introductory bars are played in a modified Latin rhythm and in its jingle-jangle (that recalls old fashioned jazz hokum) cymbal comes off its high-hat, so to speak. There follow one of J. J's warm, utterly convincing solos in balladry and a tenor chorus by Bobby that displays a richness of timbre that seems just right for this piece,

This album is another milestone for J. J,, revealing his seriousness, his emotional warmth and his subtle wit and restrained exuberance. He knows the trombone backwards, forwards and inside out and the more one listens to the unobtrusive manner in which he employs a formidable craftsmanship to delineate an improvisation or a variation on theme, the more it grows on one, especially as it is reinforced with an extraordinary beauty of tone and, when occasion calls for it, a quietly sly sense of humor.”                                  -—Charles Edward Smith

Produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol this compilation © & © 2009 by 
Fresh Sound Records.

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