Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29: Cannonball Adderley, "Somethin' Else"

Artist: Cannonball Adderley
Album: Somethin' Else
Year: 1958
Label: Blue Note

Occasionally, an album title so perfectly reflects the music found inside that one must wonder if it was a chance happening, or if the artist and marketing teams stayed up late through the night thinking of an appropriate title. It is safe to assume, that before the mid-1960's, any occurrences like this were either pure chance, or a move by the artist, as before that point, album titles were simply not seen as very important to record labels. By simply looking at the album cover of Cannonball Adderley's 1958 release, Somethin' Else, it is hard to imagine ANYONE being able to walk by the record without purchasing it. Aside from the telling album title, the cover simply lists the names of the performers, in this case, Adderley, Art Blakey, Sam Jones, Hank Jones, and some trumpet player named Miles Davis. It goes without saying that each artist within this quintet would become jazz legends in their own right, and the thought of having them all together on a single recording session is truly mind boggling. Though Cannonball Adderley recorded with many other jazz giants during his career, it is this album that not only stands as his finest album, but by far one of the most important albums in both the "cool" and "hard bop" sub-genres of jazz.

The story of exactly "how" Cannonball Adderley ended up an icon of jazz is almost as intriguing as the players he finds himself with on Somethin' Else. Truth be told, in 1955, Julian Edwin Adderley was enjoying his life as a high school band director in his home state of Florida. During a school vacation that year, he and his brother Nat took a brief trip to New York City and stopped in at a few jazz clubs. At one club, Adderley was worried about his saxophone being stolen, so he brought it inside, and was persuaded to sit in with Oscar Pattiford's group, as their normal sax player was late for the gig. Adderley's ability to play without any knowledge of the group made him an immediate sensation, and he was quickly recording sessions and forming his own quintet. Many of his most notable appearances were with Miles Davis' legendary sextet (which also featured John Coltrane), and Adderley can be heard on both Kind Of Blue as well as Milestones. During these years, as Davis pushed into the "cool" territory, it was Adderley who was pioneering new styles within the "bop" genre, yet the interplay between the two was always nothing short of brilliant. Every track found on Somethin' Else displays this interplay between the musicians, and it makes every song absolutely sensational. The album was re-released in 2004 and included an additional track from the sessions, "Allison's Uncle." The added track is just as fantastic as the rest, and it is somewhat of a mystery as to why it was not included on the original release.

On the Somethin' Else sessions, quite literally EVERY person with a major involvement on the record stands today as an icon of the jazz genre. Beginning with Blue Note Records founder, Alfred Lion, who handled all of the production and the man who may very well be the greatest engineer in music history, Rudy Van Gelder. It is Van Gelder's signature sound of making the instruments roll into and over one another that makes every Blue Note recording so fantastic, and Somethin' Else is no different. While Van Gelder set standards for recording, Art Blakey revolutionized modern drumming, and his ability to combine the bop style with a funky, groove mood is what makes him remain a massive influence to this day. Having played with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Sonny Rollins, it is often the groups he himself led that formed his legendary catalog. The other half of this stunning rhythm section is bassist Sam Jones. Jones' credits include work with Thelonious Monk and John Lee Hooker among others, and he proves his mastery throughout every composition on Somethin' Else. The other Jones on the album, Hank, stands as one of the greatest jazz pianists in history. Playing alongside the likes of Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lester Young, Hank Jones is nothing short of sensational on this record. With most so-called "supergroups," regardless of genre, the recordings almost always end up suffering due to the musicians competing for the spotlight and musical supremacy. Thankfully, on Somethin' Else, the opposite is true, as the musicians brilliantly play along with one another, and the resulting sound of this team effort is truly one of the most amazing moments in jazz history ever recorded.

While these three musicians are truly phenomenal throughout Somethin' Else, the quintet's leader as well as featured trumpet player still stand above the others. Whether he is leading his own group or playing the role of sideman, Cannonball Adderley's sound and style are unmistakable. His sound was always more bright and upbeat than a majority of his contemporaries, and this is one of the many reasons why his compositions were always a bit more "accessible" to the general public. Even with his more upbeat moods, his talents rival those of any jazz sax player in history, and it is largely due to his contributions that the "hard bop" style of jazz moved forward and gained popularity. Oh, and for the record, his nickname has nothing to do with the ammunition; it is in fact a play on the word "cannibal," as a tribute to the appetite of the man. In many ways pushing jazz to the opposite side, the interplay between Adderley and Miles Davis is one of the most true forms of the phrase "opposites attract." Davis' style at this time was far more mellow and swinging, yet somehow the pairing works brilliantly. As always, Davis plays flawlessly, and his ability to adapt to Adderley's compositions and interpretations show the true extent of his abilities. The true magic of Somethin' Else lies within the manner in which Adderley and Davis work with one another. The entire album, they are trading solos and musical phrases, both simultaneously and occasionally following one another in brilliant musical patterns. Both musicians are in top form, and it is a truly rare musical treat to be able to experience such amazing musicianship from two jazz giants as one finds on Somethin' Else.

One of the most amazing aspects of the jazz scene throughout the 1940's, 50's, and 60's was the willingness of musicians to play alongside one another without caring "whose" record was being recorded. This overall sense of selflessness led to absolutely stunning combinations, as well as countless new styles and approaches being created. Having already made his name as an icon in jazz, Miles Davis clearly has no issue taking a side-seat to Cannonball Adderley on Somethin' Else, and the other members of the quintet are just as talented, making this grouping one of the greatest ever assembled. The liner notes are truly an all-star cast of jazz legends, and from the production and engineer to every instrument, every artist featured has a catalog and legend that rank among the most impressive in history. The mood throughout Somethin' Else is consistently upbeat, even when the tempo slows, and this is largely due to the musical direction and style of Adderley. The album itself represents one of the most important, defining moments in the "hard bop" genre, and it is similarly an absolute landmark recording and remains one of the most influential albums ever recorded. With a flawless recorded catalog, Cannonball Adderley stands as a true icon of the jazz genre, and he and his all-star quintet truly made jazz history with their magnificent and monumental 1958 album, Somethin' Else.

Standout tracks: "Autumn Leaves," "Somethin' Else," and "Allison's Uncle."

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