NORRIS TURNEY QUARTET:
Big Sweet N' Blue
IF YOU ENJOYED BIG SWEET N' BLUE, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT
The Tracking Angle:
Mapleshade has garnered wide praise for its sonically pure recordings. Pierre Sprey records straight to two-track analogue with never more than a handful of mikes, minimal cable-lengths, no EQ, no echo plates, no mixing board. This disc stands as Sprey's most lifelike disc to date and that's saying a great deal. Norris Turney, who took over Johnny Hodges' seat in the last Duke Ellington band, has as big and sweet and rich a sound on the alto sax as you're likely to hear and, from the first blaring note, Sprey captures it with jaw-dropping fidelity. The traps slam, the cymbals shimmer; the bass plucks, the wood resonates; the piano hammers and glows. You have to go back to some of those Ellington/Hodges LPS, the original six-eye Columbias, to get such a warm, detailed sound.
Check out the rest of the band: pianist Larry Willis, a Mapleshade staple, who tosses off chords as if they were bouquets; Walter Booker, who's played bass for Cannonball Adderley, Sarah Vaughan and Pharaoh Sanders, to name a few; and Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, At The Blackhawk and other gems. (You'll recognize the cymbal style.) They play standards, mainly from the Ellington book. Nothing adventurous but utterly authoritative. Music for that rainy day.
Big, Sweet 'N Blue describes Norris Turney's alto sound perfectly. It's huge but sweetly expressive after all, he's the guy who replaced Johnny Hodges in the Ellington band! Hard to believe this is his first record as a leader, but it was worth the wait. Joined by veterans Jimmy Cobb (a member of Cannonball Adderly and Miles Davis's bands, and the only surviving player from Kind of Blue), Walter Booker (Adderly, Monk), and Larry Willis (Adderly, Jackie McLean, Stan Getz, Carmen McRae...), he turns in a masterful date, full of richly nuanced swagger. I can't believe that Sprey has managed to capture sax sound this big and powerful, while making it sound absolutely real. Turney's tone is breath made flesh: round, warm, solid, and-yes!-sweet. Willis's piano serves as the sax's perfect foil: softer and more liquid, but just as present. The rhythm section is a force of nature; one can hear the wind and running water in Cobb's brush work, and Booker's bass is as deep and solid as bedrock. Don't miss this one.
One of Dayton, Ohio favorite son Norris Turney's rare outings as an album leader, Big, Sweet N' Blue opens with a piercing, robust blues wail. Turney's alto is a shock, a shout and a cry a bold announcement that some passionate musical business is about to take place. And throughout the CD, the man who replaced legendary Johnny Hodges in Duke Ellington's magnificent orchestra doesn't ever disappoint.
The 72-year-old Turney might have warmly coasted with a band of his septuagenarian swing peers, delivering pleasant and timeless music that stopped far short of being gripping. But backed by some younger masters of hard bop Miles Davis Quintet drummer Jimmy Cobb; Cannonball Adderly/Hugh Masekela/Blood, Sweat & Tears pianist Larry Willis; and Thelonious Monk/ Pharaoh Sanders bassist Walter Booker Turney is on fire throughout Big, Sweet N' Blue, reveling in his huge alto tone, cutting to the bone on blues struts, making every ballad sound nakedly romantic, and revisiting hallowed Ellingtonia without either easy nostalgia or any whiff of the academic. This is a frankly sensational session, offering ample evidence of why Turney was declared an Arts Midwest "Jazz Master" in 1994, and why the great Ellington wrote songs in his honor. Big, Sweet N' Blue also reminds listeners of what a propulsive drum magician Jimmy Cobb is. In particular, his cymbal work has lost none of its alertness, brightness, punch or immediacy since the fabled days of Kind of Blue and Someday My Prince Will Come. Terrific recording quality is another one of the CD's bonuses it really sounds as though you're in the room with these all-stars, eavesdropping.
Can you believe this is Norris Turney's first small group date as a leader? The record companies are so youth-infatuated that they overlooked this master, but Mapleshade knew the number at least after Dayton, OH jazz presenter Dave Barber pulled Pierre Sprey's coat to his hometown treasure's desire to do this date. A quick run through these ten selections and one hears the wisdom in Arts Midwest's 1994 Jazz Master award presented to Mr. Turney.
If you need any clues as to the origins of the album title, once you plug this one in and peep the big, soulful blue note Turney calls 'em home with to open the date, you won't be clueless about Norris Turney ever again. This date's about the blues, ballads and Ellingtonia suitable sign posts for the man who replaced Johnny Hodges in the Duke's orchestra. Turney is joined by Larry Willis on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Walter Booker on bass. Throughout, Norris Turney plays with a grace that marks truly seasoned mastery. His tone is priceless in its expansiveness and zest for swing. Highly recommended.