July 22, 2016

Cannonball Adderley - The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Live In San Francisco (1959)

Cannonball Adderley is a very strong contender for the title of greatest alto saxophonist of all time. Many music fans can't stomach the idea of putting anybody over Charlie Parker, and there are good reasons for that, but Cannonball gives an added layer of sweetness and soul on his grooves. I think I'll approach this comparison with the "they play different styles and thrived in separate eras" card, but my point still stands that Cannonball is awesome. Jazz beginners might recognize Cannonball Adderley for his credit on Kind Of Blue or headlining over Miles Davis for his Blue Note classic, Something Else. Adderley's career goes much deeper than those two albums, though. He was one of the few jazz musicians who championed the straight up hard bop style well into the 70s (to much success, also). His career was so consistent, I don't think you can pick something out of his discography that isn't guaranteed gold.

Live In San Francisco is one of Adderley's most celebrated recordings. For whatever reason, the idea of an East coast jazz musician playing out West is awesome to me. I say that, but really the only other major example I can think of is Wes Montgomery's Full House, which was recorded in the California bay area as well. Maybe the change in atmosphere is what gives these two sessions some extra pep and fluff? But who knows? Before getting into This Here, Adderley explains that the band is about to lay down some soul that only people who attend soul church will understand. It's a playful comment, but he actually wholly sums up the essence of hard bop. The album is full of groove and a minor swing and remains energetic despite its mild pace. Cannonball is joined by his brother and frequent collaborator, Nat Adderley, on trumpet. The sibling connection obviously runs deep with these two. Nat, with his soft tone and pensive phrasing, closely resembles Miles Davis; it's no wonder why Miles wanted Cannonball in his band so much. The rhythm section brings the heat as well. Pianist Bobby Timmons contributes not only his legendary hard bop composition, This Here, but his sly chord work and tinkering. Timmons soaks between every layer of the band and compositions as good as anyone else and proves that he should be in the discussion with other top tier pianists. Sam Jones plays bass and his clear, deep tone propels the main soloists with some help from Louis Hayes on drums. Hayes is often a sort of fill-in for Art Blakey, and while his playing is explosive, it's hard to call him a carbon copy of Blakey (I think he's got a little bit of a Philly Joe Jones angle to his playing, also).

Life In San Francisco is one of those sessions where everybody in the band is feeling it and pushing each other to new heights. When it comes to hard bop, I think this band is a lot more level-headed and concise than the mid-50s Jazz Messengers eruption, and I think that dash of coolness makes their vibe a little more memorable. Classic jazz, you can't go wrong with this.