Prestige PR 7459
Sonny Stitt - Alto Sax
Benny Green - Trombone
Kirk Lightsey - Piano
Herman Wright - Bass
Roy Brooks - Drums
From the back cover: Sonny Stitt (did you know his given name is Edward?) has probably made more albums than any other jazz alto saxophonist, and through he never plays badly, such a prodigious output of necessity includes a percentage of rather routine effects.
But there is nothing routine about his performance here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is the best record Stitt has made in years. He sounds strong, happy, full of life and really involved in what he is playing. No need, really, to add that he swings – Sonny always does that.
Though he is proficient, to say the least, on tenor, Sonny plays alto exclusively here. And it was as an alto saxophonist, of course, that Sonny first made his impact on the jazz scene. It's kind of hard to believe, now, that it has been more than twenty years since the days when Sonny first made his impact on the jazz scene. It's kind of hard to believe, now, that it has been more than twenty years since the days when Stitt first began to attract attention, primarily through his records with Dizzy Gillespie; the days when there were people who would insist that it was Charlie Parker, not Sonny, who took the alto solos on That's Earl, Brother and Pop-Bop-Sh'-Bam.
In those days, Benny Green was an up-and-coming trombone player, one who had gotten the message from Dizzy and Bird when they were among his team-mates in that legendary Earl Hines big band which never recorded. Benny has a checkered career, with many ups and downs; if not for quirks of fate, his would be a household name in jazz today. But as his playing on this album indicates beyond dispute, Benny is still one of the great trombone voices; his rich, warm sound, relaxed swing, and fluent ideas are a delight.
Stitt and Green speak the same language, and when they get together, there are no problems of communication. The music they make here is, is you must have a label, solid mainstream jazz in the best sense of the term. Nobody tries to prove anything, except that playing jazz can be a pleasurable and pleasure-giving pursuit. This is comfortable music – which does not by any means imply that it is uninspired or unexciting.
On the contrary, music like this proves that while experimentation may be of certain value, it is not by a long stretch the only valid approach. In fact, the old saying about throwing the baby out with the bathwater is very much applicable to the contemporary jazz scene. When novelty (always called "innovation" by its adherents) becomes the sole criterion, the discoveries of generations of artists are cheerfully (or rather, angrily) abandoned without consideration of their possible permanent value.
Personally, I'd gladly trade you the agonized and agonizing groans and shrieks of a whole flock of new thingers for a few choruses of Sonny Stitt's masterful, relaxed, and always swinging music. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Though Sonny's hair is turning gray (and he does not choose to hide the fact) he plays with the spirit of youth – seasoned with experience. And while he ask Benny Green have paid many more dues than the youngsters who will make speeches about what society has done to them at the drop of a microphone or journalist's pen, their music is an affirmation of the positive side of life. It has a message of overcoming adversity rather than self-indulgence, and it is not very mystifying that this music should have found and still is finding an audience, while the "new" music, in spite of all propaganda efforts on its behalf, is still searching for enough listeners to subsidize its makers.
Not that the music on this album is all on one level. Listen to Pride And Passion for a mood the that is anything but gay – yet never strident or self-pitying. Besides, it is wrong to think that happy music is soporific and superficial – it is a tonic that can help you no end in facing the problems of existence.
The success of this album is to no small degree due to the excellence of the rhythm sections an all-Detroit team. Drummer Roy Brooks is well known for his long tenure with the Horace Silver Quintet, and not surprisingly, he knows how to play for the group.
Bassist Herman Wright, the bearded one, is perhaps not as well known among the fans as he should be; musicians known his worth. He has played with, among others, George Shearing, Terry Gibbs, Yusef Lateef and Charlie Mingus, and he knows where it's at.
Pianist Kirk Lightsey hasn't had much opportunity to show his gifts as a jazz soloist, since he has been active mainly as an accompanist to singers. His current boss-lady is Damita Jo; prior to that, he was with Sarah Vaughan. His work here should open a few ears; he, Wright, and Brooks can also be heard of Chet Baker's vastest albums (Smokin' With The Chet Baker Quintet (Prestige 7460).
I Want To Be Happy
Love On The Rocks
Up And Over
Pride And Passion