Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bill Cunliffe: The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2

Resonance Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.2.09
Buy CD: The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2

Oliver Nelson lived, and performed, during the key years of jazz.

Like many of his peers, he left us all too soon — born in 1932, died in '75 — but his contributions during that short span made him a legend. He played sax as an instrumentalist, but he was better known as a composer and arranger. He worked with many name bands during his life — Quincy Jones, as a notable example — but the classic album he released in 1961 made him famous: The Blues and the Abstract Truth.

Jazz musicians consider it in the same light as the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain. Nelson's album contained just six of his blues compositions, and they all became standards.

Pianist Bill Cunliffe, famous in his own right, is one of Nelson's disciples. Some time ago, Paul Lines, who runs the Pasadena Jazz Institute, suggested that Cunliffe should write some charts based on Nelson's album; the pianist did so, and he performed them at The Vic, a Santa Monica jazz club.

That session was taped by George Klabin, who later started Resonance Records. This album is the result; Cunliffe rearranged the six original blues and added two of his own compositions.

He has wrought a new classic.

The Take 2 band consists of trumpeters Terell Stafford and Larry Lunetta; trombonist Andy Martin; saxists Jeff Clayton, Bob Sheppard and Brian Scanlon; bassist Tom Warrington; drummer Mark Ferber; and Cunliffe on piano. It's a truly delightful group. The arrangements are excellent, as are all the instrumentalists.

The unit swings wonderfully, and Cunliffe has a lot to do with that; his solos are great, but the way he lays down chords — to back the melodic lines and other soloists — is exceptional.

This is the best album I've reviewed so far this year.

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