Les Jazz Modes

The Jazz Modes [1959]

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Jazzmen like French horn icon Julius Watkins and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse come around only once in every lifetime, so it's good to have documents of their work. Les Jazz Modes ensemble represents the post-bop idiom at its most inventive peak, the late '50s. Baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab is in on three of the eight selections, the still-underrated Gildo Mahones on piano, and Martin Rivera on bass throughout, Jimmy Wormworth and Ron Jefferson split drumming duties, Chino Pozo uses his hard hands on bongo drums for another four, and the unusually placed operatic soprano voice of Eileen Gilbert shows up on three of these cuts. All are originals written by the co-leaders. Watkins struggles very little to make the French horn sing and swing, and though his ability to get gigs might have been tough, there's nothing obtuse about his improvisational concept and chops. Rouse's soft but firm, introspective approach has always been a hallmark for the ultimate tenor sound this side of Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. They merge beautifully for the midtempo but energetic boppish opener "The Oblong," Watkins leading while Rouse and Shihab tag along. Drum incursions by Wormworth and free sections intercede more freely swinging "1-2-3-4-0 in Syncopation," while the very Dukish "Things Ain't What They Used to Be"-like "This'n'That" is a juggernaut melody between the three horns in unison that is positively irresistible. A staling 4/4 ballad to easy swinging "Mood in Motion" contains a fervent Rouse solo, while a slow blues, "Knittin'," is tenor driven, but Watkins' French horn and Pozo's rock-solid hands-on-skin sound steals the spotlight. The three vocal pieces have Gilbert waxing wordlessly, wraith-like. "Blue Flame" has her ghost-like apparition wafting over swinging boppish lines, "Glad I Found You" is pronounced and excitable art over a frantic framework, "Princess" has her warbling over a slower, blusier motif. You may or may not find this attractive, but it's certainly a different approach. This CD was most recently reissued by Collectables in 2006, and any Julius Watkins reissue is an event. There are more recordings from Les Jazz Modes out there, and hopefully someone else will pick them up. This, just short of 40 total minutes of bold, jazz-based creative sounds, is definitely recommended.

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