The clarity of the recording reveals the full, raw, majesty of the great drummer.

Blue Note B003576002

Wilbur Little (bass); Billy Greene (piano)Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone,  flute); Elvin Jones (drums)

Revival was recorded between July 28-30, 1967

For this album context is everything. Whitney Balliett is a great writer on jazz who wrote for the New Yorker.  In 1967 he wrote a long piece about Elvin Jones that is contemporaneous with the music on this album. It delineates the dilemma that Jones was experiencing at this time.  He had left John Coltrane after six years and eventually secured a residency at Pookie’s Pub.  Pookies was a small bar, capacity of about 150 though usually much less. One of the greatest drummers, Jones had a seven-month residence for about $150 per week.

Jones explained to Balliett why he had left Coltrane: ‘The personnel had changed. He added another drummer, and I couldn’t hear what I was doing any longer. There was too much going on, and it was ridiculous as far as I was concerned. I was getting into a whole area of frustration, and what I had to offer I felt I just could not contribute. I think that Coltrane was upset and I know in those last weeks I had a constant migraine headache’.

After leaving Coltrane. Jones told Balliett that he had worked with Duke Ellington without much success. Jones explained: ‘I joined him in Frankfurt, and my stay with him lasted just a week and a half, through Nuremberg, and Paris and Italy and Switzerland. I was new. it was difficult for the band to adapt to my style and I had to do everything in a big hurry, trying to adapt to them. Then the bass player started playing games with me by lowering and raising the tempos to make it look like I was unsteady, and finally I had to speak to him and he stopped.’

Balliett described Jones’ hotel room and the cab journey down to the gig. ‘Pookie’s Pub was on the northeast corner of Hudson and Dominick Streets, a block north of the Holland tunnel. Jones groaned as he got out of the cab – the owner of Pookie’s Pub was striding back and forth in front of it. He buttonholed Jones and talked intensely into his ear. I could hear the words ‘time’ and ‘late’ and ‘people inside’. Joan said softly, ‘Now man, cool it. Don’t bug me.  ‘When I get here, I work.’ The owner charged through the door, and Jones raised his eyebrows and laughed. He followed the owner in.

Pookie’s was narrow and dusty looking. A bar was on the left, and banquettes on the right, with closely packed tables between. At the rear between the end of the bar and the men’s room was a tiny jerry-built bandstand two feet above the floor. Jones headed for the stand and the rest of his Quartet- Billy Green, Joe Farrell and Wilbur Ware – got up from a table and followed.

Jones drums looked strictly functional. they include an 18-inch bass drum, two tom toms, a snare drum, two ride cymbals and a hi-hat. He hung his sweater on a hook by the upright piano, sat down, and tapped his way around the set with his fingers. He tightened his snares and his bass drum head and picked up a pair of sticks. then he looked at Farrell, said something, counted off, and the group went into a medium tempo blues.’

On 17th July 1967, Coltrane died just days before this recording.  This was a pivotal engagement: Elvin Jones was starting out on his own.  The first piece is Jones’ present to wife ‘Keiko’s Birthday March’ which features Joe Farrell who shows that there is an individual way of playing the tenor.  It is an introduction to the evening with fierce solos from both Farrell and Jones. Farrell is featured heavily throughout and it is as much his album as it is Jones.  Farrell went on to work with Jones and they recorded together for BlueNote.

Billy Greene has to cope with a piano that is not tuned well and it gives a queasy quality to his solos throughout the album.  ‘Gingerbread Boy’ was popular with many groups at the time.  Larry Young, the organist, sits in and plays piano on this piece but he does not manage to make the piano sound good.   The manager of Pookie’s who castigated Jones for his lateness was obviously stinting on the piano maintenance.

Wilbur Little had a wide range of influences and playing with Jones was never straightforward, in many ways he was expected to hold firm on the carcass of the pieces.  Little opens up ‘On The Trail’ a piece that was part of Ferde Grofe’s ‘The Grand Canyon Suite’.  The group, especially Jones, makes it sound like something from Sonny Rollins’  ‘Way Out West’.  The change from the horse rhythm to the swinging behind Farrell is invigorating.

Joe Farrell plays on ‘13 Avenue B’, His playing shows his ease with innovations and the structuring of long solos underpinned by the rolling percussion from Jones. Farrell the flautist plays on ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Softly as in A Morning Sunrise,’ It is a contrast to his full-throated tenor playing but he does capture the beauty of both pieces and avoids the sentimentality.

‘Oleo’ is typical of the faster pieces., Farrell is at his fluent best, his playing embellished with both grace and intelligence.  The piano solo gives an opportunity to listen to full-throated Jones as he both drives and accompanies the piano.  The accompaniment to Farrell is fundamentally different and more percussive.  The bass drum pulses and pulls Farrell along.  The intensity of both Farrell and Jones grows until Farrell gives way to Jones as the drummer delivers another solo with oceanic rumbles wrapped in the singing of the cymbals.  What must if have been like for Farrell to have that torrent of percussion behind him provoking, pulsing, embellishing, coaxing?

Many words have been expended trying to analyse the secret of Elvin’s loose, polyrhythmic style.  In the accompanying booklet Elvin explains:’ When I start, I keep the structure and melody and content of the tune in my mind and work up abstractions or obligatos on it. I count the choruses as I go along, and sometimes I’m able to decide in advance what the patten of a whole chorus will be, but more often five or six patterns will flash simultaneously across my mind, …I can see forms and shapes in my mind when I solo, …my cymbals will be one colour and my snare another colour and my tom-toms each a different colour. I mix these colours up, making constant movement. Drums suggest movement… My drumming can shade from a whisper to a thunder…’

The clarity of the recording reveals the full, raw, majesty of the great drummer.  Jones was unpredictable.  It is real jazz: the unexpected is the norm.  The whole album captures aspects of Elvin’s playing that were not always apparent at Van Gelder’s studio.

Revival: Live at Pookie’s Pub is available in 180g three-LP and two-CD sets which include a booklet with photos by Francis Wolff, Ozier Muhammad, Christian Rose and others; essays from Ashley Kahn, Zev Feldman.  There are interviews and statements by drummers Alvin Queen and Michael Shrieve, pianist Richie Beirach and Jones band alumni Pat LaBarbera, Gene Perla and Dave Liebman.  The whole package is outstanding.  Zev Feldman responds to the music by presenting it in a way that respects and ennobles the work of the artists.

Whitney Balliett.  American Musicians. 56 Portraits in Jazz (Oxford University Press 1980)

Reviewed by Jack Kenny