It seems improbable, but trumpeter Art Farmer and alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley recorded only once together in a small-group setting—during the summer of 1958. (They did appear together as members of an obscure Berlin big band date in 1966 headed by Friedrich Gulda, but the recording was never released.)
The Adderley-Farmer summit of 1958 was captured on an album called Alabama Concerto. Recorded for Riverside over three different days—July 28, July 31 and August 25, 1958—the album is unknown by many jazz listeners and certainly deserves a fresh listen by those who are familiar with it.
There are two probable reasons for its near-obscurity. For one, Alabama Concerto is listed under John Benson Brooks' name. Brooks, who composed all of the album's pieces and played piano on just one of the tracks, isn't exactly a household jazz name. For another, the album's title is deceiving, leaving the uninitiated with the impression that this is a classical album pushed through a jazz filter.
Not so. Alabama Concerto is one of the great jazz sleepers. It features wonderful and imaginative jazz interpretations of rural folk music composed by Brooks, who was a writing pal of Gil Evans and George Russell. The craftsmanship of the pieces and the arranging is top-notch.
Mind you, this is no strum and twang album—or an attempt by an ivory-tower composer to glorify barefoot living. It's pure jazz of the highest order. And what makes the album particularly special are the interactions between Adderley's and Farmer's horns.
Adderley's alto is as searing as Farmer's trumpet is pensive, and both giants play around each other beautifully. Which is what makes Brooks even more remarkable—he knew exactly which players to bring in to execute what he heard in his head.
And then there's guitarist Barry Galbraith, whose beautiful lines and chords behind Adderley and Farmer provide a soft platform. Milt Hinton's bass is full and woody without overpowering Adderley, Farmer or Galbraith. Keep in mind that there were no drums on the date and virtually no piano, so Hinton really had his work cut out for him.
There's even a back story. After doing a bit of discography research yesterday on Farmer and Adderley, I discovered that both musicians were recording Porgy & Bess separately for different labels while recording Alabama Concerto. The two Porgy dates were perfect tune-ups for the mood and spirit needed on Alabama Concerto.
On July 16 and 17 of 1958, Farmer was recording Porgy with Mundell Lowe and His Orchestra for Camden records. The group included Don Elliott, Tony Scott, Ben Webster, Lowe, George Duvivier and Osie Johnson. Meanwhile, between July 29 and August 18, Cannonball was with Miles Davis recording Gil Evans' orchestrations for Porgy for Columbia.
When you listen to Alabama Concerto, you'll hear that Adderley and Farmer brought his own Porgy feel to the date. You'll also hear that Brooks' charts were heavily influenced by the writing of Gil Evans, making Alabama Concerto something of a Gil Evans Porgy in miniature—even though Porgy wasn't completed or released yet.
The tonal similarities are remarkable and only demonstrate how in-bred many of these modal arrangers were at the time. They workshopped together, swapped music theories and experimented with similar mindsets.
To quote from a blurb on the reissue of Alabama Concerto:
"Back in the early 1970s, a panel of British critics selected Alabama Concerto as one of the 200 essential jazz albums of the previous quarter-century. They were impressed by the eloquent variations on rural folk material...The passing years only reaffirm the unique excellence of this masterpiece."
If you enjoy Art Farmer and Cannonball Adderley, you'll love Alabama Concerto. The musical textures created by the two artists are splendid, and Brooks' original works are frolicsome, poetic and distinctly American. The album also plays well together with Miles' and Gil's Porgy & Bess—one heard right after the other.
JazzWax tracks: A number of different U.S. and import versions of Alabama Concerto are available here, including mp3 downloads for 99 cents each.
However, I recommend you buy the CD—or buy all of the downloads. You really can't appreciate this work unless you hear it from the first track to the last, in order. After all, it's a concerto.
JazzWax video clips: To hear Miles Davis play the Gil Evans arrangement of Summertime from Porgy & Bess, go here. Quincy Jones is conducting, and it was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1991, two months before Miles' death.
Just prior to recording Porgy & Bess and Alabama Concerto, Art Farmer was at the Newport Jazz Festival with Gerry Mulligan on July 6, 1958. Go here to see a clip of Farmer playing with Mulligan from Jazz on a Summer's Day.
To see Cannonball Adderley play Jessica's Day in March 1963, go here. It was recorded in Switzerland. Funny how the set designers wrapped the word "sextet" around the wall behind the musicians so that "sex" is all you see on camera. That's Yusef Lateef on tenor, Nat Adderley on cornet, Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.