Sunday, May 6, 2012

Oliver Nelson: Verve Jazz Masters 48 (1995)

Impulse! has more cachet than Verve.  It was and is a cooler label.  It's a fact - don't try to argue.  And Oliver Nelson's 1961 album The Blues And The Abstract Truth, on Impulse, is his best known.  I won't argue with that:  I've had it for nearly twenty years and it's never failed me yet.  "Stolen Moments" pretty much defined my sense of what was cool in my twenties.

This disc draws from three albums Nelson recorded for Verve in the '60s, plus a few rarities.  It's a good next step after The Blues And The Abstract Truth.  And more of this chronically, criminally underrated musician, arranger, and composer is always welcome.

He was a man out of time, is what Oliver Nelson was.  He wrote cool jazz for biggish, and outright big, bands in an age when cool jazz was played by small, lean combos, while big bands tended to the lush, the Latin, the goofy, or the nostalgic.  Nelson was none of that:  his music certainly has a lot of Duke in it, and a sense of adventure in the instrumentation that betrays an awareness of Evans, but he's more in tune with Coltrane and Miles than anything from the swing era.  He's about thirty years ahead of his time, in other words. 

(You want evidence that Impulse! has more hip value than Verve?  How about this:  I can't find anything from this album to link to on youtube.  But all of Blues and the Abstract... is there.  But:  choice tracks are "Full Nelson," from 1962, which is almost as coooool as "Stolen Moments";  "Ricardo's Dilemma", which is a lot more rewarding than a straight cop of Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" should be;  "Complex City," which has Stravinsky taking the A train;  and "Patterns For Orchestra", one of the rarities, which is probably the best place on the disc to hear Nelson's ingenious combination of a hot '60s rhythm section [Albert Dailey on piano with Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate on drums] with a high-gloss orchestra.)

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