Today's Record Bag selection is really about a particular album (Oliver Nelson's March 1961 album Blues and the Abstract Truth) and even more specifically, one song from that album, "Stolen Moments."

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 Ellington and Count Basie worshipers, then over on this side you had Miles, who had released Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain in 1959, and singlehandedly turned jazz on its head by introducing modal jazz (more on that some other time), and then over there you had Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, who were taking bebop to a new level with avant-jazz -- ear-bending excursions into freeform cacophony and vibrant expression. Somehow Nelson managed to bring all these things together. This feat's subtlety is hard to catch, and I don't really expect everyone to hear it, but when you listen to this album, ask yourself if you don't hear a little bit of Ellington, Davis, and Coleman all mixed up in there. He paved the way for Mingus and others with this blend of the traditional and the revolutionary.

Rounding out the album is an all-star cast. First you've got perhaps my favorite piano player of all time, Bill Evans. He's the piano on Kind of Blue and most of the other Davis albums, not to mention Chet Baker's albums, Cannonball Adderley's (he and Coltrane are the two saxophonists on Kind of Blue), Stan Getz's, Tony Bennet's, a few of Mingus's, on top of his own solo works.

Then you have Paul Chambers, another Kind of Blue alumni, this time the bassist. Paul Chambers played bass on everything. No shit, just go look at this. He's the bass player on almost all the albums by Davis, Adderley, Baker, Sonny Clark, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Kelly, Hank Mobley, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Art Pepper, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, and dozens more. He played on, like, 200 albums. He died at the age of 34 in 1969. I feel worthless now.

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 George Benson into fusion.

Eric Dolphy, the alto sax and flute player, was a cohort of Ornette Coleman's and contributed greatly to the avant-jazz movement.

<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