Back in the early 1960’s, Impulse! Records was home to many of the best jazz musicians on the scene at the time including John Coltrane. It’s been 50 years since its inception and although the label was eventually absorbed by Verve Records, the music and the spirit of the label lives on. To celebrate the anniversary, Verve put together Impulse! Nights, a series of stellar shows featuring some of today’s talented jazz musicians, granting them the opportunity to reinterpret the music of the jazz greats on the Impulse! imprint. Last Thursday’s show was dedicated to saxophonist, arranger and composer, Oliver Nelson and his quintessential album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth.
The Blues and the Abstract Truth, released in 1961, was one of Oliver Nelson’s defining albums. It not only defined him as an artist and bandleader but it also defined and inspired the sound of an era. On Thursday night, trumpeter and bandleader for the evening, Roy Hargrove, was joined onstage by a dynamic and talented crew of musicians. Helping to pay homage to Nelson’s compositions were, David Sanchez on tenor saxophone, George Cables on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Each artist, undoubtedly chosen for their ability, brought the energy and prowess necessary to adeptly bring Nelson’s work to life, while infusing it with a modern edge.
Though the entire album of The Blues and the Abstract Truth runs less than 40 minutes itself, the set, ran a little less than an hour as the quintet, engagingly lead us through each song. The set opened with the familiar swells of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet and David Sanchez’s sax signaling the start of the classic, timeless and most notable of Nelson’s compositions (my favorite as well), “Stolen Moments”. Listening to and watching these musicians perform put a new emphasis on the songs intricacies and cord progressions. Hargrove’s, at times, ferocious and punchy trumpet solos were tempered by Sanchez’s harmonious rhythm on the sax followed by the George Cable’s impressive piano solos and Dwayne Burno’s bass prowess and playfulness.
There was quite a bit of improvisation going on by each musician but they never seemed to lose the essence of what Nelson accomplished in his pieces. Hargrove encouraged the group’s creativity evidenced in his facial expressions and call-outs throughout the set. Following “Stolen Moments,” was the toe-tapping, head-nodding, song “Hoe Down”. Nelson’s composition, “Yearnin’” has some wickedly high and strong trumpet trills and Hargrove was able to masterfully emulate the technique. At times, the complexities of the chord changes of some of the songs seemed to leave Hargrove and Sanchez a bit winded but solos by Cables, Bruno and Hutchinson offered brief breaks and moments of rest. On Nelson’s composition, “Butch and Butch”, Hargrove pulled out his trumpet mute to add an even more bluesy tone to the composition.
If there is one word to describe what was experienced it would be expressive. That seemed to be the sentiment for the evening. This set was a true expression of the spirit of Oliver Nelson’s legacy and great recording. Roy Hargrove and crew did a fine job of honoring the intricacies of the music. Nothing less was to be expected and nothing less was given.
For more information on the Impulse! 50th Anniversary, check out their website: http://www.impulse50.com/
Words by Terri Neal