Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else
Analogue Productions CBNJ 81595 SA
Cannonball Adderley (alto sax)
Art Blakey (drums)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Hank Jones (piano)
Sam Jones (bass)
One of the best known record dates in the history of modern jazz, the chemistry among Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones and Art Blakey is amazing. Their reworkings of "Autumn Leaves" and "Love For Sale" are masterpieces. Miles' title tune and Nat Adderley's "One For Daddy-O" are classics.
Recorded in 1958.
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Review by Mark Werlin - May 20, 2016
1958 was another banner year for Blue Note Records. Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack studio hosted sessions from Sonny Clark (Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin'), Lee Morgan (Candy), Cannonball Adderley (Somethin' Else), Bud Powell (Time Waits and The Scene Changes), and Art Blakey (Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers: Moanin'), which have attained classic jazz status. And while all of these recordings captured New York's finest at their artistic peaks and collectively embody the best qualities of hard bop—energy, blues, original compositions, tight arrangements, virtuoso soloing—one title especially stands out as 'Somethin' Else'.
Cannonball Adderley's emergence as the top alto player on the scene did not go unnoticed by Miles Davis. Having fired his first Quintet en masse and recorded the breakthrough large-ensemble "Miles Ahead" in collaboration with Gil Evans, Miles began paying careful attention to the artistic progress made by now-clean-and-sober John Coltrane during his tenure in Thelonious Monk's quartet, and the less rapid musical development shown by Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Adderley's outstanding academic musical background notwithstanding, the alto player was stalled at the gate of technique. He could cut the best altoists, but his detractors went straight for his Achilles heel: lack of a coherent artistic conception. Adderley could entertain an audience with his outgoing manner and impress the less discerning with brilliant cascades of notes, but could he change the way you heard a song?
When Miles reconvened the Quintet of Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Jones to record a set of new material on February 4 and March 4, 1958 for Columbia (Miles Davis: Milestones......), he shifted the balance of the band through the addition of Adderley. It was a decision that notably altered—if only for a short time—the alto player's artistic trajectory. Standing alongside the most accomplished harmonic improviser (Coltrane) and the most lyrical minimalist (Miles) in jazz, Cannonball attuned his sound and refined his playing, placing a greater emphasis on the form of his solos, deemphasizing the sheer quantities of notes.
Five days after the March 4 session for "Milestones", in an act of noblesse oblige that was not characteristic of the trumpeter, Miles Davis appeared as a co-leader on the "Somethin' Else" date, which was credited under Adderley's name. The session was extraordinary in several ways: the only Cannonball Adderley recording for Blue Note; the only studio collaboration between Miles and the great balladist, Hank Jones; and the final occasion when Miles Davis' horn was captured by Rudy Van Gelder's microphones.
(The emphasis on dates and discography is intentional. The proximity to the second "Milestones" session meant that Cannonball and Miles were still resonating, figuratively, from the performances recorded less than one week earlier. The March 9 session provided Miles a chance to work with Hank Jones, a consummate professional accompanist—who was also drug-free. A few days after the "Somethin' Else" session Miles fired the heroin-addicted Red Garland and hired Bill Evans, perhaps the only other player who could equal Hank Jones in subtlety and expressive touch.)
If there had been only one performance captured by RVG in that March 9 session, one perfect, shining moment in the history of recorded music, it would be "Autumn Leaves." From the opening bass vamp played with calm authority by Sam Jones with the unusually quiet support of Art Blakey on brushes, the performance of the 1945 Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prévert song (originally, "Les Feuilles Mortes") progresses from strength to strength. Miles, on Harmon mute, plays the head by himself, and draws a variant line on the original vocal melody. Everything he has learned about reduction, restraint, emphasis and phrasing is apparent in this intro passage. Moreover, it's a tacit challenge to Cannonball: "follow this, mother——".
Adderley's solo demonstrates how much he has been affected by the pull of Coltrane's prolix harmonic expansiveness and Miles' contrary assertive brevity and lyricism. Cannon gets right in the middle of those extremes and generates two lyrical, expansive, thoughtful choruses. He never breaks outside the chord changes but he runs over the bar lines, dances lightly over the rhythm section and exercises new-found economy in the faster passages.
Miles' second solo, a fully-developed improvisation unmoored from the opening head, is one of the highlights of this period, or any period, of his performance history, equal to his best work on Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. Miles has moved beyond improvising over the changes; he is spontaneously composing new variations on the melodic form of the song, phrasing with a vocalist's sensibility, adding subtle rhythmic emphases to break up the legato lines. The greatness of jazz music rests on moments like these, when the veil of preparation, struggle, delay and obstruction is suddenly lifted to reveal the beauty that always lay beneath. In response, Hank Jones essays the most delicately-phrased solo imaginable, a perfect complement to the musical creation that had just taken place. Jones was completely versed in bebop idiom but always retained the sound of the earlier jazz era in his playing. He was a genius at accompanying vocalists and brings that sensibility to this performance.
A coda of the head is played, again solo, by Miles, even more abstractly than the opening; then a further response from Hank Jones, bringing the dynamics to pianissimo, delicately stringing pearls. Miles has the last word, a ghostly phrase that lingers in the memory like a half-remembered dream.
The balance of "Somethin' Else" may not rise to the quintessential level of "Autumn Leaves" but each tune serves to bring out the best in the contributors. "Love For Sale" opens with an orchestral unaccompanied intro from Hank Jones, and showcases Blakey's propulsive beat and Cannonball's effortless technique. Adderley's lengthy solo illustrates his move away from Bird and towards 'Trane, but also displays his tendency to overreliance on the blues when he's in a corner. Hank Jones's accompaniment could have led Adderley in a more modernistic direction, but the big man either couldn't hear the pianist's suggestions or was brushing them off. Still, it's a better performance of the Cole Porter tune than the one recorded by the Miles Davis Sextet later that year (but held back from release until the 1970s).
The title track is a 12-bar form—not a conventional blues—played over some very tricky substitute chords on the piano. Miles plays open-bell, and the call-and-response intro with Cannonball is reminiscent of his interplay with Coltrane in the earlier Quintet.
The sound is vintage Rudy Van Gelder, remastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray from the original master tape. RVG had cut back on the intrusive reverb that dominates the mix on the 1956 Miles Davis Quintet marathon sessions—though he still overused it on John Coltrane: Blue Train. Trumpet and alto are hard left, drums and bass hard right, piano—always a challenge for RVG—generally in the center and set back. The previous version of "Somethin' Else" in my collection was a Liberty Blue Note LP from the early 1970s that was just horrible-sounding. This AP SACD has all the expected virtues of improved clarity and high and low extension within the limits of the era, more dimensionality and detail. Cannonball's alto sounds like it's six feet away, and Miles can be heard sighing through his horn.
Isn't that why we're listening?
Copyright © 2016 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net