Oliver Nelson isn't a person I really know much about. Unlike other jazz giants with whom I feel some sense of personal affinity, though I'm not sure why, Oliver Nelson is a name and not much else to me. He didn't die young. He didn't play with a bunch of crazy guys. I only own one album. But every time I hear him play and hear the music he composed and arranged I find myself enchanted.
Blue and the Abstract Truth, an amazingly titled album that hit the scene in 1961, arrived in the middle of a war between several different jazz camps. On one side you had the tight, big band loving
Rounding out the album is an all-star cast. First you've got perhaps my favorite piano player of all time,
Then you have
Freddie Hubbard (you know his trumpet probably from The Godfather theme, which he wrote) is a badass trumpet player, making his mark with people like Nelson in the early '60s but quickly branching out with
<take a breath>
OK. So now you know the climate and the group, but the album we're talking about is the whole point, so a bit about it.
On the whole, it's an excellent album. I could do without the second track, "Hoe-Down" -- the name speaks for itself. The album is moody and has a great sound. Nelson's arrangements are always lush and sound like a tighter Charles Mingus. The cast are all excellent. Every time I hear a Bill Evans solo my ears melt.
But the track that steals the show, and the reason I'm writing about this album and about Oliver Nelson, is "Stolen Moments." A more fitting name for this song I could not imagine. It's brilliant. It's subdued and it fills any room in which you hear it with smoke. Everything you see when it's playing is black and white. The pace is almost touching and the arrangements -- three separate melodic ideas stretched across a minor blues form -- are a foggy night. Eric Dolphy's flute solo dances through the slow moving work. Bill Evans, always a sucker for a slow ballad or a slow blues, drinks up the opportunity in true style.
And then there's Oliver's solo (the third solo, after the flute, but before Bill Evans's piano). It's so simple. It boggles the mind. It's the simplest solo in the whole history of... soloing. And it's so suggestive. But what makes it so incomprehensible is how he takes these simple three- or four-note phrases and wraps them around a chord progression that everyone knows (the blues) in such a way that it almost makes you hear it differently. Just three notes here and then the same three notes, transposed there. Here, there. Back and forth. And at the end of his solo comes this cascading drop of an answer to this simplicity. Down, down, down it goes. Just before this denouement he plays this little punctuation mark that blew everyone's mind.
For you music geeks out there, it's just a diminished scale -- a symmetrical arrangement of notes that goes whole note, half note, whole note, half note....Before this recording almost no one played that particular scale and here he was practically inventing it in this exceptional solo.
I hope you'll go listen to the track, it's worth it.
Other suggestions are: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain; Miles Davis The '58 Sessions; Charles Mingus The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady; Charles Mingus, Ah Um