The first time Frank Wess and Herbie Mann recorded shoulder to shoulder on flute was in 1957, for an album led by arranger A.K. Salim called Flute Suite. The six tracks are neatly divided between mid-tempo blues and sophisticated originals. On four of the tracks, the two bop pipers run down complex lines in tandem and blow superb individual solos. On the remaining two, they play tenor saxes. Best of all, the album showcases Salim's little-known prowess as a small-group jazz writer, not bad for an enormously gifted arranger and composer known for producing anvil-heavy big-band swingers.
Long out of print, Flute Suite can be found tucked away on a two-CD set of Salim's work for Savoy Records. More in a minute.
Ahmad Khatab Salim is one of my favorite arrangers of the 1950s. Born Albert Atkinson in 1922, the alto saxophonist and clarinetist converted to Islam in the 1940s and changed his name. Salim gave up playing in 1943 following a jaw injury and focused on arranging. He wrote and ghostwrote for many of the major big bands of the 1940s, including Lucky Millinder [pictured], Jimmie Lunceford and Lionel Hampton. Salim had a knack for weaving together powerful charts with multiple melody lines that built to swinging crescendos. He also could pen with a light, lyrical touch, offering up spring-loaded melodies framed by modern harmonies, creating a sound favored by Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce.
Perhaps matched only by Chico O'Farrill, Salim could write as effortlessly and as authentically for jazz bands as he could for the best Latin mambo orchestras of the era. For example, Salim arranged Illinois Jacquet's Boot 'em Up and Count Basie's Blee Blop Blues as well as Tito Puente's Puente Goes Jazz and Machito's Kenya, two important albums in the development of Latin-jazz. During the 1950s, he also arranged for Louie Bellson, Dizzy Gillespie and others.
Yet Salim today remains largely a mystery. He's listed in the original Encyclopedia of Jazz but he doesn't turn up in subsequent volumes, nor does he appear listed in the massive New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Salim's last known album as a leader was Afro Soul Drum Orgy in 1964 for Prestige. Except for a cryptic note in the Encyclopedia of Jazz about Salim dabbling in real estate in the early 1950s, that's pretty much all there is.
Known mostly for big swinging orchestrations, Salim led five small-group Savoy albums between 1957 and 1958, The first LP was Flute Suite, an album that paired Herbie Mann and Frank Wess. The duo would record only three times together, and this was their first summit. If you dig jazz flute, you'll find the results smart and sweet. Joining Wess and Mann on the date were Joe Wilder (trumpet), Frank Rehak (trombone), Hank Jones (piano), Wendell Marshall (bass) and Bobby Donaldson (drums).
Salim is one of the forgotten arranger-composer greats of the 1950s. Only Salim and Chico O'Farrill could write convincingly and artfully in both the jazz and Latin idioms. But on Flute Suite, we hear Salim the breezy small-group jazz writer, especially on pearls such as Pretty Baby and Lopin'. Wess and Mann never sounded so good.
JazzWax tracks: Flute Suite can be found on a tremendous two-CD set called The Modern Sounds of A.K. Salim: The Complete Savoy Recordings 1957-1958. This prized two-CD set features Flute Suite, Stablemates, Jazz Is Busting Out All Over, Pretty for the People and Blues Suite. The Salim compilation is out of print (I've seen copies going for as high as $61). But yesterday I found a listing for new copies here for $18.
If you want to hear what made Salim special as a jazz big-band arranger, download from iTunes Boot 'em Up, Bluesitis and Swinging Home from Illinois Jacquet's Flying Home: Best of the Verve Years, Dizzy's Blues from Dizzy Gillespie's Birk's Works: The Verve Big-Band Sessions and Blee Blop Blues from Count Basie: Bluebird's Best.
The other two albums on which Wess and Mann appeared together were Billy Taylor With Four Flutes (1959), which is available at Amazon, and String Along With Basie: Count Basie with Strings (1960), a Roulette album that's out of print.