Monday, 19 September 2011

Affecting Albums - What Makes Sammy Swing! - Clark Terry Septet

(Click on the links in the song titles to be taken to Spotify for a listen)

If you are in any way a serious trumpet player, you will have heard of Clark Terry, even if it's only because the well known trumpet maker Olds released both a Clark Terry trumpet and Clark Terry flugelhorn, both of which are now highly prized by collectors.

Of course, to get to a stage where you get a horn named after you means that you are a pretty good player, and Clark certainly was that - after an apprenticeship with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, he moved out under his own name and has been a big name in the world jazz scene for more than 60 years.

What makes Sammy swing! was recorded in 1963 and features, apart from Clark, Phil Woods and Seldon Powell on reeds (including sax, flute and clarinet), Urbie Green on trom, and a rhythm section composing Dave McKenna on piano, George Duvivier on bass and Mel Lewis on drums.

The tunes were arranged by Pat Williams, and they are all from a Broadway musical called What makes Sammy run?, which opened in 1964. According to Terry (in the original liner notes of the album), the group had not seen the arrangements before heading into the studio - and the freshness with which the septet approaches the music shows through.

When I first heard this album, I had to check that it was only a septet, as the orchestration sounds very full, which I guess is courtesy of the Broadway roots of all the songs - there is plenty of great ensemble playing here.

Stand-out tracks are the first, A room without windows, with it's driving trom - bass clarinet lines, and great plunger trumpet tune over the top, with excellent piano filling in the spaces (a feature of the whole album). There are some slightly Broadway-esque (read cheesy), bits in here, but because the group swings so hard, they make it good - Terry's absolutely wailing solo to take out this tune is fantastic.

A new pair of shoes begins with a Miles Davis like muted trumpet/trom line, which morphs into a neat little muted line with the piano lifting it with swinging fills. The whole tune opens out as it moves along, with a nice sax solo taking it out at less than three minutes. In fact all the tunes here are pretty much less than four minutes, so the band has to make the most of what they've got in short time - the fact that they managed to do that is testament to their individual skills.

The best track on the album for mine is Humble, with it's merry falling melody line, packing in a few musical cliches, that bring even more smiles. The middle of the tune is filled with a fine swinging tenor sax solo and some great flugel work by Terry. Just a magnificent foot-tapper.

This album is certainly not a profound musical statement, nor is it ground-breaking in any way, but for some excellent jazz, I'd recommend you suss it out.

What makes Sammy swing! is available on iTunes and from Amazon. If you snag the LoneHillJazz version (which is on iTunes), it comes with 12 bonus tracks, some of which are live recordings of Clark Terry small group sessions in Paris, and others which come from the soundtrack of a French film Si le vent te fait peur.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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