Considering that he was the equal of such heralded arrangers as Quincy Jones, Gil Evans, and Tadd Dameron, it's a shame Oliver Nelson has, for the most part, gone unsung. Maybe Nelson's eventual TV and film work tainted him in the eyes of critics and purists; but, then again, most jazz arrangers made that move, often out of sheer financial necessity -- and let's not scold them if it was simply a matter of wanting to expand their horizons. Before his Hollywood switch, though, Nelson used several '60s dates to not only display those pen skills, but to reveal his considerable saxophone chops (tenor, alto, and soprano!), as well. The fruits can be found on many dates for OJC, Impulse (the classic Blues and the Abstract Truth), and Verve. It's his work for the latter label that is nicely showcased on this collection. Covering the years 1962-1967 and culled to a large extent from his Full Nelson album and various Leonard Feather-sponsored releases, the 16 tracks here find Nelson at the helm of various big band lineups, plying his always swinging yet often complex and distinct sound. The mix contains a dazzling array of treats, including some of the most sophisticated jazz charts ("Patterns for Orchestra"), a taste of his later soundtrack work ("A Typical Day in New York"), beautiful ballads ("Penthouse Dawn"), and even some contemporary R&B-tinged fare ("Full Nelson"). Along with these and several other original pieces, Nelson also does fine by Ellington ("Paris Blues") and W.C. Handy ("St. Louis Blues"). And it's Joe Newman's fine solo on this last cut that ably demonstrates how Nelson, like Mingus, had a knack for bringing out the best in his players. With an all-star cast of players and plenty of fine sides to go, this Nelson roundup offers the perfect way to familiarize yourself with one of the great jazz architects of the '60s.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook