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Oliver Nelson: Screamin' the Blues

Oliver Nelson: Screamin' the Blues

Analogue Productions  CPRJ 8243 SA

Stereo Hybrid

Jazz


Oliver Nelson


Part of the ultimate audiophile Prestige stereo reissues from Analogue Productions — 25 of the most collectible, rarest, most audiophile-sounding Rudy Van Gelder recordings ever made. All cut at 331/3 and also released on Hybrid SACD

All mastered from the original analog master tapes by mastering maestro Kevin Gray

Posterity remembers Oliver Nelson (1932-1975) primarily as an arranger/conductor. When he first began to attract attention with a series of albums for Prestige and its subsidiaries, however, Nelson was hailed as a versatile leader of small groups and a composer/instrumentalist who could refresh the music's traditional verities while also looking ahead. There is no better showcase for these skills among his initial sessions than Screamin' the Blues, a rousing set of funky modernism interpreted by a sextet of players who shared Nelson's allegiance to both virtuosity and vision. The pairing of saxophonist Eric Dolphy with Nelson was particularly inspired as both men were adept on more than one instrument, and allowed this sextet to create an uncommon diversity of colors. Nelson and Dolphy would reunite a year later on both the classic Blues and the Abstract Truth and (with the band heard here minus trumpeter Richard Williams) on the looser yet intense Straight Ahead. With Richard Williams, Eric Dolphy, Richard Wyands, George Duvivier and Roy Haynes.

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Recording
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Analogue recording
Tracks
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1. Screamin' the Blues
2. March On, March On
3. The Drive
4. The Meetin'
5. Three Seconds
6. Alto-itis
Reviews (1)
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Review by Mark Werlin - December 8, 2019

From a whisper to a shout, the blues speak, they shake you and compel you to listen.

Images and Sounds

Esmond Edwards was the man behind the lens for the album covers of Traneing In, Before Dawn, Red Garland's Piano, Lights Out, Soultrane. Visual currency of 1950s and 1960s jazz. The cover could be your first impression of the artist. It had to be real, and Edwards knew the reality of the men and women he photographed. He was shooting from inside the musicians' skin.

After Edwards assumed production duties at Prestige in 1958 until he jumped to Chess Records in 1962, he produced, supervised, and photographed around one hundred jazz releases. Even in such a long run of musical excellence, "Screamin' the Blues" stands out.

Leader Oliver Nelson is mostly remembered today for "Blues and the Abstract Truth", but if you listen to that album right after any track on "Screamin'", you can hear that Impulse's Bob Thiele took the edge off the music. "Screamin'" captures the real experience of musicians in 1960 — the excitement of restarting small ensemble jazz in a new style that respected the tradition of the house while kicking open the doors.

Look at Eric Dolphy's recording schedule for the last week of May 1960:

May 24: Charles Mingus, large ensemble (Pre-Bird)
May 25: Charles Mingus, nonet (Pre-Bird)
May 27: Oliver Nelson, sextet (Screamin' the Blues)

This was Dolphy's honeymoon period in New York, when he was blowing the most exhilarating new alto sounds since Bird. He walked into RVGs studio for the Nelson date with his ears still ringing from Mingus' shouts and exhortations, and you can hear it in the unbridled joy of his playing. He's not as 'out' as he would be, a year later. The constraint of the tightly-arranged tunes keeps him inside the changes. You can hear the product of years of practice in his disciplined choruses on "The Drive" and the influence of his upbringing in the African-American church in speech-like, glossolalia figures in "The Meetin'". The title track features his only bass clarinet solo of the date; listen to the way he cuts up and repeats short blues phrases, as if examining unearthed fragments of a past culture.

The choice of trumpeter Richard Williams as a fulcrum to balance out the smooth bop tenor of Nelson and the boundary-stretching alto of Dolphy is indicative of Edwards' sure hand at production. Williams leaps into "March On, March On" full bore, a hard, clear voice scattering notes up and down the minor blues chords until trailing off into a distant lament. This is what musicians mean by 'telling a story', a personal history distilled into pure sound.

"Three Seconds" — a pun on three horns playing the head melody in second intervals — sounds like a sketch for "Stolen Moments", but with the rough edges showing. After each horn solos individually, Dolphy playfully goads Nelson and Williams through the chase section.

Long-time Kenny Burrell sideman Richard Wyands, a fellow West Coast upstart and exact contemporary of Dolphy (born two weeks apart), was one of the rotating piano chair occupants in the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. Wyands made the Nonagon Gallery gig captured on "Mingus in Wonderland" — a brilliant performance and vivid Van Gelder recording that's overdue for SACD or hi-res reissue. His block chords choruses in "The Drive" show complete mastery of the idiom. The rhythm section of Wyands, Duvivier and Haynes do more than support the three horns, they create a distinctive group sound in the short span of an afternoon recording session.

Sound quality of Kevin Gray's transfer is very good, though the image is not quite as sharp as in some Analogue Productions SACDs of Blue Note sessions from that era. What shines through is the unguarded emotion of the blues.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by Tony Reif - December 12, 2019 (1 of 2)

Mark, how does the sound compare to the CD? Does it have the same heavier reverb on Nelson's alto (r channel) than on the horns on the left channel? To my ear it makes the soundstage quite artifical-sounding.

Comment by Mark Werlin - December 13, 2019 (2 of 2)

Tony, you’re correct about the overuse of reverb. On the title track, RVG cranks up the reverb at 3:20 during the alto sax solo. Riding the reverb level was RVG’s signature in those days. It’s not as bad on some tracks as on others, and it’s much more noticeable in headphones than it might be over loudspeakers.

This was a live to tape mix. There was nothing Kevin Gray could have done to reduce the amount of reverb.