Blue Note Records 7243 4 95327 2 4
Original Album Recording January 5th 1958
Art Farmer (trumpet), Jackie McClean (alto saxophone), Sonny Clark (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).
Cool Struttin’ 9m 19s, Blue Minor 10m 15s, Sippin’ At Bells 8m 13s, Deep Night 9m 28s, Royal Flush 8m 58s,* Lover 7m 01s*
(* not part of original vinyl album)
“Cool Struttin” is one of the most iconic Blue Note recordings released during the golden era of American jazz. The event took place at the Rudy Van Gelder studios in Hackensack New Jersey which was the birthplace of so many of the greatest recordings in jazz history. The leader of the session, pianist Sonny Clark was twenty six at the time, but passed away less just four years later on January 13th 1963. A man heavily influenced by Bud Powell he made eleven recordings under his own name between 1957 and 1961. He played and recorded both within his own groups and as a sideman with many top musicians of the time including Buddy De Franco, Dexter Gordon, Grant Green and Johnny Griffen, to name a few. Art Farmer, a man somewhat forgotten these days, was a prolific recording artist, appearing on over one hundred and sixty albums during his lengthy career. Always equally adept on trumpet and flugel horn, the twin brother of bassist Addison Farmer, he was on particularly good form that January day sixty two years ago. Harlem born saxophonist Jackie McClean was an all time Blue Note favourite, he was also twenty six years old, at the time of the recording. Another prolific recording artist who played alongside many of the greats, he died in 2004 aged 73, having been inaugurated into the Downbeat Hall Of Fame. The legendary bassist Paul Chambers, a member of the first Great Miles Davis Quintet alongside John Coltrane etc, was Influenced by Ray Brown and Oscar Pettiford and became one of the true masters of his instrument. Plagued by an addiction to heroin and alcohol, he died at the tender age of only 33 in 1969. Philly Jo Jones, the house drummer at the famous Cafe Society Club in the late forties went on to become one of the leading lights of the hard bop revolution in the fifties. As well as making 17 albums under his own name he can count Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley and Miles among the many top ranked musicians he played with.
The album itself, which was famous for its cover photograph, tee shirt and poster, almost as much as the record itself, has been an enduring link down the years to the early period of hard bop in America. Although the structure of almost every piece maintained the routine of the times, ie: ensemble theme, round of solo’s, short bass passage, drum break and theme reprise, it’s the quality of the musicianship that has enabled it to remain in the minds of jazz devotees for over sixty years. There is an air of relaxation about the whole thing which immediately comes across on the opener and title track Cool Struttin. Here we get a very strong theme, after the intro’ from the leader’s piano, paving the way for Art Farmer’s comfortable response in the upper register of his horn, followed by Jackie McClean’s agile alto contribution and Sonny’s more austere reappraisal of his own composition to close. There a definite Latin flavour to the opening bars of Blue Minor, McClean is in great form on this one, almost “Bird like” in places, while Farmer’s trumpet reaches majestic levels. Leader and pianist Sonny Clark was on top of his game throughout and centres the whole thing with a well thought out and studied solo of his own. Deep Night and one of the bonus tracks on the CD version Royal Flush are simply blowing sessions and vehicles for improvisation in similar mode but the Miles Davis composition Sippin At Bells is a much more complex affair, as you might expect, with Jackie McClean inventing and re-inventing both the mood and trajectory of the piece, as he shares the limelight with another stunning solo from the leader’s piano. Even if you have the original vinyl LP it is well worth adding this CD copy to your collection if only for the inclusion of the final bonus cut, a superb take on the Rodgers and Hart standard Lover. Taken at an unusually brisk tempo, this one is led from the front by drummer Philly Joe with an opening cascade which builds layers of tension before some fine and expansive support behind the horns followed by an energised solo of his own, a true percussive masterclass. Perhaps the only downside of the disc is that the great Paul Chambers was not quite at his very best, but nevertheless at this distance the recording still holds firm as a cornerstone of hard bop and the Blue Note back catalogue.
This review is of the 1998 remastered CD re-issue of the original Blue Note LP, catalogue 1588. There are other versions and digital downloads available.