Oliver Nelson's follow-up to his classic Blues & The Abstract Truth session for Impulse – and like that one, a tremendous little album – filled with deep tones and wonderful colors in sound! The group here's a bit larger than before – an ensemble that includes Phil Woods on alto, Ben Webster on tenor, Thad Jones on trumpet, Pepper Adams on baritone, Roger Kellaway on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and Grady Tate on drums. The album includes some superb original compositions by Nelson – just the kind of overlooked jazz numbers that make the set great – and as with most of his arrangements from the time, there's a perfect balance between group force and intimate solo space! Titles include "The Critic's Choice", "Blues & The Abstract Truth", "One For Bob", and 2 versions of Dave Brubeck's "Theme From Mr. Broadway".
Oliver Nelson had recorded several sessions for Prestige when the fledgling Impulse! label gave him the opportunity to make this septet date in 1961. The result was a rare marriage between an arranger-composer's conception and the ideal collection of musicians to execute it. The material is all based somehow on the blues, but Nelson's structural and harmonic extensions make it highly varied, suggesting ballads, hoedowns, and swing. The band is one of those groupings that seem only to have been possible around 1960, a roster so strong that the leader's name was actually listed fourth on the cover. Nelson shares the solo space with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, alto saxophonist and flutist Eric Dolphy, and pianist Bill Evans, while bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Roy Haynes contribute support and baritone saxophonist George Barrow adds depth. In stark contrast to Dolphy's brilliant, convulsive explosions, Nelson's tenor solos are intriguingly minimalist, emphasizing a tight vibrato and unusual note choices. It's not quite Kind of Blue (nothing is), but Blues and the Abstract Truth is an essential recording, one that helped define the shape of jazz in the '60s. ~ Amazon
Oliver Nelson was one of the more distinctive arrangers to be active in jazz, the studios, and popular music of the '60s. While most Nelson reissues focus on his always-excellent saxophone playing (whether on tenor or alto), this six-CD set, Argo, Verve and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions, focuses on Oliver Nelson the arranger-composer-bandleader. He does take solos on some of these dates on tenor, alto,and soprano (his only recorded solos on that instrument), but it his writing that takes center stage.
Oliver Nelson would gain his greatest fame later in his short life as an arranger/composer, but this superior session puts the emphasis on his distinctive tenor and alto playing. In a slightly unusual group (with vibraphonist Lem Winchester, organist Johnny "Hammond" Smith, bassist George Tucker, and drummer Roy Haynes), Nelson improvises a variety of well-constructed but spontaneous solos; his unaccompanied spots on "All the Way" and his hard-charging playing on the medium-tempo blues "Groove" are two of the many highpoints. Nelson remains a vastly underrated saxophonist and all six performances (four of them his originals) are excellent.
Oliver Nelson's debut as a leader found him already a distinctive and skilled tenor saxophonist by the age of 27. For this quintet set, Nelson teams up with the veteran trumpeter Kenny Dorham, pianist Ray Bryant, bassist Wendell Marshall, and drummer Art Taylor for four of his originals, plus the ballads "Passion Flower" and "What's New." Although none of these Nelson tunes caught on, this was an impressive beginning to a short but productive career and gives one a strong example of the multi-talented Nelson's tenor playing.