Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Saxophone BeBop: “Julian Adderley Quintet – Portrait Of Cannonball”

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was making major waves in the jazz world by 1958. He was in the hippest band in the world; Miles Davis’ Sextet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Like most alto sax players of that time, Adderley was often dismissed by critics as an imitator or Charlie Parker, although he had already developed a distinct style of his own by the mid ‘50s. Adderley’s tone was big, fat, and round and his phrasing stemmed mostly from the blues.
Jazz fans and critics started to give “Cannonball” his proper dues in early 1958, after the release of Miles Davis’ Milestones (Columbia) and Adderley’s first and only “solo” album on Blue Note; Somethin’ Else featuring Miles Davis.

Trumpet master Clark Terry had introduced “Cannonball” and his brother and cornet/trumpet player Nat Adderley to Orin Keepnews (Manager of Riverside Records) shortly after Somethin’ Else was recorded. His first session for Riverside was Julian Adderley Quintet – Portrait Of Cannonball; recorded on July 1, 1958. Adderley is joined by Bill Evans, piano (Evans would later appear with Adderley on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Adderley’s Jump For Joy and Know What I Mean), Blue Mitchell, trumpet, Sam Jones, bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. This session is one of the most original and exciting hard-bop albums of the entire genre.

The album starts with three alternate versions of Gigi Gryce’s up-tempo bop masterpiece “Minority.” Some might find this to be excessive but each take is special in its own right. Adderley is on fire. His blues-bop alto lines are bold and burning. Blue Mitchell sounds a lot like Art Farmer, playing very melodic and thoughtfully sparse trumpet lines that are the perfect counterpoint to Adderley’s frenetics. Bill Evans is forced to play a more subtle, subordinate role than usual. Those big classical chords that would establish an entire mood of a composition are traded in for some tasty comping and brief but imaginative solos.

Cannonball Adderley
Cannonball Adderley

On the soulful ballad “Straight Life,” Adderley’s lines remind me of Coleman Hawkins if The Hawk played alto sax instead of tenor. Adderley’s confidence and articulation on this original has always given me that impression. Bill Evans’ true personality shines through a little bit here as he plays some beautiful block chords. Blue Mitchell’s trumpet work is superb. Sam Jones’ bass playing is relaxed and supportive of Philly Joe Jones’ wonderfully bombastic drumming.

“Blues Funk” is a pure 12 bar blues. Adderley opens up all harmonic possibilities of a “simple” blues progression here and there’s plenty of room for Mitchell, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe to stretch out.

“A Little Taste” is one of Adderley’s most exhilarating compositions of that period. He leaps from the lower register of his alto sax to the upper with confidence and ease. Blue Mitchell’s solo is thematic and perfect. Philly Joe Jones’ bebop drumming pushes the band to reach even further.

The band’s rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” is just gorgeous. Adderley’s lines are not only purposeful, but they also tell a story. A truly great jazz soloist can take you on a journey without sounding repetitious. Bird did it, Bean did it, Sonny Rollins is still doing it, and “Cannonball” did it too.

To celebrate Adderley’s first session with Riverside, Miles Davis wrote the modal “Nardis” for the occasion. It’s amazing how Adderley and this group of superb musicians can go from bebop, blues, and standard ballads to a dark and more explorative piece like “Nardis”. There’s a haunting quality to this composition. Adderley’s sound is always joyful, even in a darker setting like this, but Blue Mitchell’s solo here gives me chills. Mitchell’s trumpet lines sounds like they could lead a funeral procession. Evans’ piano accompaniment is equally as menacing, especially as he solos over the minor chords changes. This piece gives the listener a good insight into where Miles Davis was headed as a composer and his plans to utilize the incredible talents of both Adderley and Bill Evans as a part of his new sound that would change jazz forever a year later.

Julian Adderley Quintet-Portrait Of Cannonball is a stellar album, featuring “Cannonball” Adderley’s best hard-bop playing. The album also gives the listener a brief glimpse into Adderley’s illustrious future as he is joined by some of the greatest jazz stylists of the day. This is essential listening.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

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