Thursday, June 10, 2010

CD Review: Kenny Dorham - The Flamboyan, Queens, NY 1963

Kenny Dorham
The Flamboyan, Queens, NY 1963

During the late '80/early '90s, we college radio geeks had different perspectives on what made a band successful in our eyes. A band that released an album on a label like Homestead, SST or, later Matador, was about to get blown out of the water and make a name for themselves, or so it seemed. The reality was that a band on any of those probably wasn't all that different from an underground band in Pittsburgh (heck, our own Weird Paul Petrosky fit both criteria) except that they had an album on those labels. And maybe a few more people around the country knew about them.

50 years later, nearly everyone who released an album on Blue Note Records is looked at as anything from unappreciated genius to god. For a musician to be on that label, it meant that you had it made. The reality is that these jazz musicians might really have been on the same boat as indie rockers were in the early days of the labels mentioned above. Time has a way of changing perspectives on things like this.

All this came to mind while listening to this release from Upfront Records of a radio broadcast of Kenny Dorham's quintet. Dorham, the trumpeter who had played with Charlie Parker and later held a spot in the original Jazz Messengers, was leading a group with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson in 1963. The pairing was considered a hot commodity. Henderson was the new guy in town, about to be record with the trumpeter and eventually get signed to his own Blue Note contract. One year later, he'd appear on Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," which turned the imprint into a successful label.

So it's ironic to hear these two playing on a Monday night at a bar in Queens that must not have been very full, judging by radio MC Alan Grant's virtual pleas to listeners to stop by and check it out, which almost sound a little desperate. What's even more illuminating is that the band doesn't sound like their firing on all cylinders at the beginning of that night, although that could be the fault of the recording not bringing out everyone's true nature. Pianist Ronnie Matthews has some punchy comps during his own "Dorian" that borrow from McCoy Tyner's solo in "My Favorite Things." (That piece and this one feature bassist Steve Davis, it should be noted.) But Dorham's solo consists of long tones and quick phrases that don't always connect to a full idea. Henderson stokes the fires though those fast triplets that he'd unleash in "The Sidewinder" and in a few of his own pieces.

Henderson sounds ready to cook from the beginning, but Dorham takes a few tunes to sound close to the Kenny Dorham. It happens around "My Injun From Brazil," which thankfully was retitled "Una Mas" by the time it was recorded in the studio. By this part of the set, the quintet has gone through passable versions of "I Can't Get Started" and "Summertime," the latter getting a little more kick going for it. By the time the Dorham original is reached, the trumpeter is engaged in some spry staccato lines, with drummer J.C. Moses (a Pittsburgher, which is mentioned by Grant!) doing some good ride cymbal work behind him. Moses plays it pretty straight, not going in the direction he would with Eric Dolphy or the New York Contemporary Five with Archie Shepp, but he's still solid.

By the time they get to "Dynamo (Straight Ahead)" they start to chew up the song's "I Got Rhythm" chord changes. Good things might've been coming in the next set, but unfortunately that's the end of the show, and Grant signs off and the music fades after four minutes. Speaking of Grant, the DJ serves as a good host, without any of the condescending swarm of Symphony Sid or acting with the pretentious hipster aura of radio men that might follow him. When he talks to Dorham he doesn't sound stiff either, but respectful. It's another sad reminder of something that you can't get on commercial radio anymore: live people on the air after midnight broadcasting a live performance, which you could potentially attend if you were still making plans that late in the evening.

Aside from that bout of nostalgiz, The Flamboyan doesn't exactly rank as required listening or a holy grail of hard bop, but does have some fine moments from two strong players who were a bit under the radar in comparison to some of their peers.

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