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Without a Song
on July 19, 2006
I recently picked up Walter Davis Jr.'s first date as a leader, "Davis Cup," and despite the strong performances by all hands I had to down-rate it because of the pedestrian tunes and arrangements, none of which provided the least hint of the singular, strikingly original, even visionary, compositions that would issue from Davis' pen beginning in the 1970's. Sonny Clark's "Leapin' and Lopin'" comes up short for the same reason but, as Sonny's last date, has to be judged the greater disappointment.
The compelling reason for purchase, besides Sonny's tasteful piano work, is the frontline of Charlie Rouse and Tommy Turrentine. A player of the first order, Rouse is well represented on Columbia, Jazzland, and Dawn but not on Blue Note. No tenor player has a more personal, inimitable sound or, for that matter, a more inventive imagination along with the pyrotechnical skills to follow it wherever it leads. (Rouse's "Takin' Care of Business" on OJC offers a veritable clinic on the limitless possibilities of the tenor saxophone.) Turrentine is usually passed over completely, almost as scarce on recordings these days as the underappreciated but towering Bill Hardman. Like his younger brother, tenor saxophonist Stanley, Tommy has a big sound and the ability to say the most with the fewest number of notes.
Sonny Clark himself is one of the most eloquent and elegant of the post-Powell generation of piano "blowers." His touch is light and full, not unlike Tommy Flanagan's. Although his left hand uses basic, Bud-like "shell" voicings, he's so sparing in his use of it that all the attention is directed to the unfailing, flowing logic of his right hand constructions. And he can improvise through a sequence of rapidly changing chords in a manner that accounts for the shifting harmonic pattern without sacrificing melodic continuity.
With the exception of the Jimmy Van Heusen standard, "Deep in a Dream," these are all undistinguished originals, reminiscent of the exercises in numerous jazz improvisation books. "Melody in C" is one of those tunes I can hear once and write down all of the harmonies for. To have to listen to an additional, alternate, even longer, version of it is a questionable use of the listener's time. Of all the originals, the only one that has sufficient inherent interest to be memorable is "Zellmar's Delight," which was not included on the original LP.