Sam Rivers ‘Contours’

Post-bop bliss! The beautifully demented solo Herbie Hancock plays in “Dance of the Tripedal” alone makes this record worth owning. It’s fearless, captivating, moving, and each bar feels like a new tale of the unexpected. There are many thrilling moments just like it throughout Sam Rivers ‘Contours’, recorded in May 1965. Rivers (sax/flute) composed all four long tracks and led a stellar quintet. Joining Rivers and Hancock are Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). With song titles like “Mellifluous Cacophony,” it would be understandable that less adventurous ears might whistle past the graveyard on ’Contours.’ But you’d be missing out on one of the great mid-60s sessions…one that was increasingly difficult to come by on LP until reissued as part of the series last year. Now, to be honest, it’s still a challenging listen, and there there are a few moments with sharp edges. But those moments don’t show up often, and much of this music is truly MESMERIZING. It’s also a record with a very high replayability factor—the interplay can be so subtle and understated (or on the other end of the spectrum, so fast and furious) that it doesn’t register on the first spin. Or tenth. I dig this one more with each spin. Highest recommendation bop

Sonny Clark ‘Cool Struttin’

It takes bravado to call your album ‘Cool Struttin’. It’s a perfect title for this essential record though, summarizing the swagger, swing, and attitude of the music succinctly, and with iconic artwork to complete the package. It seems like everybody woke up to the brilliance of this LP over the last decade. Blues and chemistry are the core drivers here: bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones were a well-oiled rhythm machine, sharing a bandstand with Miles Davis almost nightly, and having worked with pianist Sonny Clark on prior sessions. Trumpeter Art Farmer and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean had also done sessions with Clark, Chambers, and Jones, and the two of them had played together for a while with tenorist Gene Ammons, so there was a solid foundation upon which these four long tracks are built. Art Farmer’s tone is refined, and his lines are sophisticated. McLeans’ tone is fiery, and his lines have a youthful urgency—the pairing works brilliantly. Clark’s playing is elegant, soulful, and beautiful, with a bounce that’s accented by a rhythm section who know exactly when to step on the gas with a bit of encouragement, and when to give a wide berth to the soloists. Speaking of driving, that brings me to the album cover, which has always fascinated me. Based on the direction the man and the woman (Ruth Lion, wife of Blue Note exec Alfred) are walking, it seems inevitable that they would meet off-frame. Or would they? The slightly blurry automobile on the opposite side of the street in the background appears to be pulling out into traffic. Where to? Is there a connection to the man? The woman? Both? Was it intentional or a happy accident that the bottom hem of her skirt and his overcoat line up perfectly? Great photo! This record is the total package—the two Clark originals are excellent, the take on Miles’ “Sippin’ at Bells” is wonderful, and the Chuck Henderson/Rudy Vallee standard “Deep Night” is a joy. It’s beautifully recorded, expertly played, and has a vibe that goes down smooth with morning coffee or a nighttime whiskey. Jazz newbies and veterans rave about ‘Cool Struttin’ for good reason