STRENGTH AND SANITY
For some of us Booker Little was as great a jazz trumpeter as any. That this sentiment is not more widely shared is down to the fact that Little was dead in 1961 at just 23. He didn’t have much time, but with what he did he created a stunning body of work, whether with Max Roach, co-fronting a brilliant band at the Five Spot with Eric Dolphy or on his four albums as leader. On two of those, Out Front and Booker Little and Friend the pianist was Don Friedman, so it was an inspired decision on the part of Newvelle Records’ Elan Mehler to ask Friedman to revisit some of those Little compositions in company with his working trio of bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi.
Fifty-five years on the “revisiting” inevitably leads to “reinventing” as well, and yet one is left bewildered as to why Little’s fascinating compositions have not entered the standard repertoire. Among them is the drama-filled Quiet Please, with its different time-feels and disparate melodic material that Little massaged into a super-cohesive whole. Friedman, Palombi and Takahashi traverse these speed humps with aplomb, the improvising being intricate extensions of Little’s ideas.
Without resort to imitation in any sense this trio captures three others hallmarks of Little’s work: starkness, lyricism and suppleness. The rhythm section makes the tunes airy, and Friedman skims across the top of this buoyancy with constant reminders of what an under-acknowledged force he is. His improvising never feels hemmed in by the changes, and his freer work is underpinned by a rare artistic rigour. As we have now come to expect from Newvelle, the vinyl sound has sumptuous depth and extravagant dynamic breadth.