King Curtis

The New Scene of King Curtis

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Adoring King Soul may be a de facto renunciation of the main part of the rhythm & blues tenor saxophonist's career -- his instrumental hits, indeed his very crucial role in the tenor saxophone remaining a viable voice on the hit parade. The album was recorded only a couple of years prior to a 1962 Curtis smash gyrating off the twist dance craze. A rock & roll backbeat helped establish the commercial potential of the latter item, yet for the 1960 recording, Curtis is accompanied by two-thirds of a famous Miles Davis rhythm section as well as a drummer who eventually became prominent on the Parisian swing scene. A reworking of the standard "Willow Weep for Me" is a highlight; this is hardly a "Soul Twist."

Even the names of the labels involved with these contrasting recordings bear out stylistic stereotypes. The funky party record for dancers came out on Enjoy. Previously it had been Prestige crowning King Soul as well as convening a subsequent Soul Meeting, the label's status amongst jazz listeners of all persuasions indicated in its very name. Much of King Curtis' later audience would not presumably prefer to hear the man backed by Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass. Some listeners are prejudiced against the jazz genre itself, feeling it is too much about prestige with entirely too little enjoyment.

Davis' group with Chambers, Kelly, drummer Philly Joe Jones, and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane had been extremely popular in the early '50s. The music this group made is a good suggestion for anyone in doubt about jazz or in a fog about Davis' abilities beyond the merely provocative or intimidating. Chambers and Kelly can not be too strongly emphasized as components of this brilliant group, carrying over their assets to the Curtis session as if shifting boxes from one side of a garage to another.

"Little Brother Soul" and "In a Funky Groove" are self-descriptive ditties by the leader in which the pianist combines aspects of the filthy and pristine, the results bordering on the surrealistic. A typical chord voicing sets a buffed pearl on a bed of creamed goat cheese. For another, Kelly dips a silk handkerchief into a vat of melon juice, then pulls out the Texas state flag. This could be too rich a diet for the dancers, still it is hard to imagine the piano track on Parliament's "Chocolate City" existing without Wynton Kelly. The woody sound of Chambers' bass is again not something Curtis would stick with, his discography unfolding with the distinct presence of cables connecting electric basses to amps, some of them curly. His lines on "Da-Duh-Dah" and "Have You Heard?" represent study sessions for budding bassists, at least it can be hoped that the one who nicked the copy from a local college radio station is putting it to such good use. Brass soloist and section mate Nat Adderley is the quibble in the dibble, so to speak. He can cause dismay for playing as if backed into a corner, for abruptly quitting right in the middle of something interesting, for utilizing a tone that suggests the summoning of the hanging judge. Here he is at his best, however, Curtis turning out to be an even better foil than brother Cannonball Adderley would be over the course of a much longer-running relationship, perhaps even because of the spontaneity of the enterprise itself. The trumpeter emulates the likes of Art Farmer, lightly icing the edges as if serenading a pastry chef.

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