Kenny Clarke

The Quintessence: Stockholm - New York - Paris 1939-1949

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Any survey of Kenny Clarke's recordings from the 1940s will represent early modern jazz as it was played and heard on both sides of the Atlantic during and after the Second World War. Clarke, whose drumming was less extroverted than many of his contemporaries, made his first appearance on records in the '30s as a member of Edgar Hayes' orchestra. His subsequent participation in the bop revolution included groundbreaking work as one of the music's primary innovators. Beyond the single-disc Clarke retrospectives put out by the Classics and Jazz Factory labels, two larger sets colorfully illustrate his contribution to the new music of his day. Happily, Fremeaux's 36-track, double-disc Quintessence edition has only seven titles in common with the Proper label's 72-track, four-CD box set, Klook's the Man, and the two compilations could easily co-exist in the same personal jazz collection. Fremeaux takes the well-rounded approach by including four examples of Clarke in the rhythm section behind New Orleans soprano sax and clarinet master Sidney Bechet, and tosses in one track from the drummer's first date as a leader. This swing session took place in Stockholm in 1938, while the Hayes orchestra was on tour. Why the producers of this collection chose "I've Found a New Baby," with its sweet pop vocal, rather than the sole instrumental track from that date is anybody's guess. Clarke's Swede-attuned "Kvintette," a scaled-down version of the Hayes orchestra, featured him playing the xylophone, and for that reason, "I've Found a New Baby" sounds like the work of Red Norvo or Adrian Rollini. It makes an interesting prelude to the truly progressive stratum which begins with "Swing to Bop," a nearly nine-minute open jam recorded live after-hours at Minton's Playhouse on West 118th Street in Harlem, and starring electrically amplified guitarist Charlie Christian. Beginning with "One Bass Hit," the playlist focuses mainly upon Clarke's work with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and especially Tadd Dameron, who first attracted attention as composer and arranger for Harlan Leonard's Kansas City-based big band, the Rockets. The collective personnel on Fremeaux's quintessential Clarke compilation includes enough important and legendary players -- Fats Navarro, Wardell Gray, Milt Jackson, James Moody, and Bud Powell, to name a handful -- to serve as both inspiration and checklist for further listening. It ends grandly and effectively with Coleman Hawkins' "Bah-U-Bah" (later known as "Bay-U-Bah"), an exciting, rhythmically propelled tune co-composed by Dameron. It is an excellent closer which shows off Clarke's attractive and compelling technique.

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