Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stanley Turrentine - That's Where It's At (1962)

At the time this album was recorded, few active musicians were as ideally suited for collaboration as Stanley Turrentine and Les McCann. Each was a young modernist with deep roots in the jazz tradition and both had risen to a prominent place in what annotator Dudley Williams refers to as "the new soul movement". Yet there were two obstacles to overcome before a Turrentine/McCann partnership could be forged. The pianist, though a native of Kentucky, lived and primarily worked in the Los Angeles area, while the saxophonist's domain was decidedly East Coast. There was also the matter of recording contracts, with Turrentine a Blue Note artist and McCann signed to Pacific Jazz. Recording projects with special guests from rival companies have become commonplace in recent years; but in the highly competitive 60s, independent jazz labels gave permission for their stars to appear elsewhere rarely if at all, and generally only when a reciprocal appearance could be arranged.
These problems were solved when McCann brought his successful trio (known as Les McCann Ltd) to New York for a stand at the Village Gate at the end of 1961. As the pianist tells the story in his liner notes to one of two Pacific Jazz albums that resulted, he met Turrentine while visiting the musicians' union, and the two immediately agreed to do an album together. A deal between the respective labels was struck, and Turrentine joined the pianist's trio, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and tenor saxophonist Frank Haynes for the aforementioned live recording, taped on December 28th. Five days later, it was Turrentine's turn to play host, and the present collection resulted.
Both men are already had favorable experience in this tenor-plus-trio format. McCann's unit had recorded in support of Teddy Edwards on the 1959 album It's About Time, before ever taping a session of its own, while one of Turrentine's initial Blue Note efforts had been his Blue Hour parley with the Three Sounds. In this instance, however, the rhythm section was not a regular working trio. As the notes indicate, Herbie Lewis was in the process of leaving the Ltd, after a year long tenure and relocating to New York, while drummer Otis Finch was in the midst of his first major jazz gig with Turrentine's wife, organist Shirley Scott. Coincidentally, Lewis had recorded with Turrentine during an earlier New York visit the previous June, on Scott's Prestige album Hip Soul.
The material here is well-paced and surprisingly varied given that the first hour tracks are blues, with a good mix of tempos that allow everyone to shout, preach, and whisper at the appropriate moments. McCann contributed four titles, of which all, save the medium-tempo "Pia", which had also been recorded by his trio. Of those, the standout is "Smile, Stacey" which also had been taped at the Village Gate without added horns. This romping opener starts at a level of great intensity and then builds, like a Mingus-like six-against-four feeling early in the tenor solo. Given this dynamic performance, it is surprising that others have not reprised "Stacy" more frequently, although trombonist Fred Wesley did a nice arrangement for four horns on his 1991 disc Comme Ci Comme Ça. "We'll See Yaw'll After While, Ya Heah", the Ltd's signoff number first heard on a live album cut in San Fransisco, is given a full treatment here for the only time on record.
Stanley's "Soft Pedal Blues" and his brother Tommy's "Light Blue" complete the program. The latter, a relaxed 32-bar opus, had been previously recorde by Horace Parlan (with Booker Ervin and Grant Green) on Parlan's Blue Note album Up & Down, where Parlan included an introduction that is omitted in these versions. The alternate take included in the new version of the album as a bonus track provides fresh solo choruses from the featured players and Lewis.
As compatible as Turrentine and McCann proved to be, they went their seperate ways for the next quarter-century, reuniting only in 1984 at the time of the Blue Note label's reemergence for two tracks on the Turrentine album Straight Ahead. Their short-lived partnership, both here and on LesMcann Ltd in New York, suggests that there was much more soulful music they might have made together.

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