|KENNY CLARKE AND FRANCY
ON REARWARD -
After forging bop history and founding the Modern Jazz Quartet,
Pittsburgh-born drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke (1914-85) left
the United States for Europe in 1956. He played for several years in a
trio with Bud Powell, then hooked up with conservatory trained pianist
Francy Boland (b. 1929) to form the Clarke-Boland Big Band (C-BBB),
one of Europe’s preeminent jazz orchestras. From 1961 to 1972, the
group recorded a whopping 35 albums and at various times, featured
some of Europe and America’s finest names in jazz: Art Farmer,
Johnny Griffin, Benny Bailey, Ronnie Scott, Sahib Shihab and Jimmy
The seemingly unlikely partnership of Clarke and Boland made for a formidable foundation. Clarke had unfaltering rhythm and a broad sense of swing and Boland, whose always inspired pianistic witticisms were only briefly revealed, proved a gifted composer/arranger of rare insight and exceptional tonal variety. Like Ellington, Boland conceived of musical stories, often to be told by the specific talents and abilities of the orchestra’s soloists (1969’s At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, for example, was a suite written entirely to chronicle Griffin’s arrest in London for back tax payments). But, still, this was a musician’s band -- given to old-fashioned bouts of section playing and audience-rousing performances. And even the multi-cultural casting and diverse musical backgrounds couldn’t prevent the coalescence of Clarke and Boland’s unified conception.
Italian producer Gigi Campi became the orchestra’s manager, producer and all around guru/inspiration. It is he who oversaw the vast recorded legacy of the Clarke/Boland aggregates. It is Campi who has also supervised the CD release of C-BBB projects on the German MPS and Emanon labels. Here, he teams with the Italian Rearward label to release once-rare and some never issued Clarke/Boland music. The packaging is exceedingly handsome: cardboard slipcases holding complimentary digipack CD cases and separately bound booklets with British chronicler (and Klook biographer) Mike Hennessey’s notes, superb (though buried) credits and rare photos. What’s more, Campi has obsessively restored the recordings for pristine sound quality and expertly captured the orchestra for the digital age.
The first of the Rearward releases, Karl Drewo’s Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, isn’t really a C-BBB project at all. But the June 1961 session, originally issued on Met Records, prominently – and surprisingly - features Boland throughout with Joe Harris instead of Clarke on drums. Drewo, whose tone and style seem to cross Ellington section man Coleman Hawkins with Basie section man Eddie Lockjaw Davis, is a Viennese tenor saxist who was an early fixture of the C-BBB. He got his start in the early 1950s playing in bands with Joe Zawinul and was recorded in 1974 with Art Farmer. Here, the sax-with-rhythm quartet is augmented by three trombones (Chris Kellens, Raymond Droz, Otto Bredl), an unusual concept that is Boland’s and one that successfully provides a subtle orchestral sound for the lively program. As arranger, Boland is also the architect of the date and offers two of its strongest pieces ("Young Bucks" and "J.L.K."). Drewo swings with an appealing melodic beauty throughout, suggesting that his own career as a prominent soloist was somehow shortchanged. This one is a real treat: a solid swinger firmly in the best bop tradition.
By 1964, the C-BBB was in full swing, constantly recording and performing throughout Europe. When Clarke and Boland were unable to gather the full orchestra together, they often did small group records like the three sessions recorded between 1964 and 1965 that resulted in the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Sextet’s Calypso Blues. Latin is the prevailing mood here and although the 20 tracks here were eventually featured over a variety of releases, the sextet offers a true simpatico groove. In addition to Clarke and Boland, Sahib Shihab shines personably on flute, Fats Sadi finesses the vibes and bongos, Joe Harris covers other percussion and Jimmy Woode, in addition to his signature bass work, offers his pleasant, relaxed vocals on seven tracks. Nine tracks here first appeared on Clarke/Boland’s CBS LP Marcel Marceau, for whom "Balafon" was written (and also as part of Shihab’s Vogue LP Companionship) and "Please Don’t Leave," with Shihab on vocals comes from the reed man’s 1964 Argo LP Summer Dawn. This nicely varied set mixes standards ("Lush Life") and jazz classics ("Born To Be Blue," "Insensatez" and Dizzy’s "Tin Tin Deo" and "Con Alma") with colorful originals from Woode, Shihab and Boland. A perfect compliment for romantic listening that offers plenty of jazz invention – especially those who admire the not-oft heard sounds of Shihab, Boland and Jimmy Woode.
Sahib Shihab (1925-89) like fellow C-BBBB percussionist Joe Harris, was in the Quincy Jones orchestra that toured Europe in 1960. Neither returned to the United States when the band went back home (Shihab settled in Scandinavia) and both hooked up shortly thereafter with Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland. Shihab, a devout follower of Islam who was prominent on several Prestige dates from the 1950s, seemed a logical feature for the C-BBB. One of the first of these features to surface on CD is the wonderful Sahib Shihab And All Those Cats. The 15 titles here come from six small-group sessions the compelling American baritone sax/flautist recorded with Clarke and Boland between 1964 and 1970. While this may suggest a hodge-podge, it’s a consistent and worthy collection with Clarke and Woode appearing throughout, Sadi, Boland and Harris on most titles and later spots for Benny Bailey and Ake Persson too. Three of these titles were originally on Shihab’s 1964 Argo LP, Summer Dawn ("Waltz For Seth," "Campi’s Idea," "Herr Fixit") and three others are from the 1968 Vogue sessions for Seeds ("Peter’s Waltz," "Set Up" and the probably previously unreleased "End of a Love Affair"). The nine remaining tracks, recorded at different times between 1964 and 1970, originally appeared on a Vogue compilation called Companionship. Shihab is in top form throughout. There seems to be dedicated clarity and a swinging joy here – probably because no one was forced to play like their American counterparts, in prescribed bossa nova, top 40 or rock modes. Shihab is consistently fluent on the bulky baritone, adding more of a bite and a growl than the familiar Mulligan sound. But he’s most compelling in the flute work he offers on "Companionship," "Herr Fixit," and Boland’s "Om Mani Pade Hum." A joy overall and a welcome introduction to an American reedman known better to European listeners.
The jewel of Rearward’s current batch of issues is The Clarke-Boland Big Band’s Our Kinda Strauss, a collection of modally-oriented waltz themes recorded between 1966 and 1972. Ten of the disc’s 16 tracks come from the C-BBB’s 1966 Philips LP, Swing, Waltz, Swing. The remaining six titles are similarly inclined, but released here for the first time ever. Boland shows a great deal of his Ellington influence here (think Nutcracker), swinging the band -- featuring Americans Benny Bailey, Sahib Shihab, Johnny Griffin and Sal Nistico with European stalwarts Ake Persson, Derek Humble and Karl Drewo – through colorful, Ellingtonian passages. The program mixes some Strauss (R and J), Gershwin and Lehar with a hefty helping of Boland’s originals, two Coltrane trademarks ("Greensleeves" and "My Favorite Things") and a C-BBB favorite, Burt Bachrach’s "Wives and Lovers." The soloists are simply superb, with Drewo clearly out in front (the LP was originally devised as a feature for the tenor saxist). Overall, the outing offers an ideal example of this superb band’s individual and collective capabilities. The only unusual exception is Boland’s solos on a strangely tuned organ during "Lotus" and "Lobsang." Eventually, Boland’s writing became a bit more abstract (check out Verve’s Change of Scene, a not altogether successful pairing of Stan Getz with the C-BBB from 1971). But here, the C-BBB is at the peak of its powers and charm.
The last great Boland-Clarke project in Rearward’s bountiful crop appears under Chicago tenor great Johnny Griffin’s name as Griff ‘n’ Bags. While Boland, Woode and Clarke are common to all 16 of these 1967-1969 tracks, it’s not exactly Griff with Milt "Bags" Jackson. Griff heads up a 1968 octet on five tracks which originally appeared on his 1968 Vogue LP, Lady Heavy Bottom’s Waltz. But Bags – who was supposed to reunite with fellow MJQ founder Clarke for a C-BBB recording that never happened – is heard a year later as part of a different quintet, swinging his vibes on four tracks (notably, "Blues For K") and singing appealingly on "I’m A Fool To Want You." Clarke is more than usually inspired during Jackson’s performances and really stands out. The real joys here, though, are the three not-oft heard Boland-Woode-Clarke trio performances from 1967 and, even better, the three sextet performances of Boland originals "The Turk’s Bolero," "The Girl and the Turk" and "Muvaffak’s Pad" from 1968 featuring Idrees Sulieman (trumpet), Ake Persson (trombone) and, of course, Sahib Shihab. Despite the top-shelf signature soloing throughout from Shihab, Jackson and Griffin, Boland’s piano is also much more prominently out in front here – making this rather misleadingly titled collection one of the highlights of Rearward’s Gigi Campi projects.
Three Latin Adventures - The Clarke-Boland Big Band was Europe’s foremost jazz orchestra during its existence from 1960 to 1973. It started as a sextet led by American expatriate drummer Kenny Clarke (1914-1985) and expert arranger and French pianist Francy Boland (b. 1929), then grew to a large band comprised of expatriates like Johnny Griffin and Benny Bailey and talented Europeans like Ronnie Scott and Ake Persson. By the late 60s, its only real competition was New York’s Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band. But only occasionally did the C-BBB – or its records -- make it over to the US.
The two albums featured on the superb Three Latin Adventures are1968’s Latin Kaleidoscope (released on Prestige Records in the US) and Fellini 712 (also 1968). Latin Kaleidoscope is comprised of two suites that are more traditionally Latinate, with the band swinging on well-written parts to a panoply of well-used percussion elements (Boland recruited drummers Kenny Clare, Al "Tootie" Heath" and Sabu Martinez to add their percussion talents). "Fellini 712" may be based on Latin origins, but Boland transcends such humble beginnings to a more universal language.
Gary McFarland’s six-part "Latin Kaleidoscope" is a joy to discover – much as it was to first hear his creations for Stan Getz on 1962’s Big Band Bossa Nova (to which this Latin suite bears some distinctive similarities). His trademark is simple, invigorating themes with a memorable, childlike quality. "Latin Kaleidoscope" offers much evidence of his gifts. Boland, who added his own touches to this suite, never takes a solo throughout and is occasionally heard on harpsichord; a sensitive touch to sensitively considered music. And excellent solos are taken by Sahib Shihab ("Duas Rosas"), Ronnie Scott ("Uma Fita de Tres Cores") and Aki Persson ("Othos Negrs").
Francy Boland’s "Cuban Fever" is like a musical postcard of Cuba: powerful, colorful, exciting, where the unexpected is approached at every corner. The innate skill of Boland’s craft is most apparent here. Like the great jazz arrangers, he’s a scenarist, a master painter. Here the brasses cover more of the thematic canvas. But it is often the reeds that take solo honors (a nice contrast) – with the exception of the beautiful finale, "Crepusculo y Aurora" that benefits by a resonant Benny Bailey trumpet solo (Clarke’s clever shifting patterns are much in evidence here too).
Boland’s "Fellini 712" suite is an ambitious, slightly more avant-garde take on Latin themes that is a testament to Boland’s substantial abilities as a writer and arranger. This suite, named for Italian director Federico Fellini and a reference to Rome’s 712-kilometer distance from the French border, was the result of an invitation for the band to perform in Rome during 1968. Boland was inspired by the band’s "dolce vita" Roman holiday and named his three movements after their hotel, the location of the studio where they performed and a café popular among musicians and artists. During this suite, it’s as if the band coalesces before your ears into one brilliant entity; each individual providing light and shadow to the collective whole. It is the magic Boland works in his pieces, but it’s brought alive by the enthusiastic playing of the band members. The extended time of each movement allows for more soloing too, with exceptional turns taken by Sahib Shihab on flute, Dusko Gojkovic on flügelhorn and Tony Coe and Johnny Griffin on tenor sax.
This is some of the best orchestral jazz that was made in the late 60s, wisely compiled for the CD age by original producer, Gigi Campi, in another one of MPS’s well-designed packages with informative notes by Mike Hennessey. Recommended.