On December 11 and 12, 1968, three different styles of jazz converged in one New York recording studio—and the result was flammable. The session leader was baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams [pictured above], who was paired for the first and only time with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. The little-known album would be called Encounter! (Prestige), and the rhythm-section featured Tommy Flanagan (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
The three divergent styles present were hardbop (Adams), swing (Sims) and avant-garde (Jones), and each makes its presence felt on uptempo, mid-tempo and ballad tracks. For me, this is among Adams' and Sims' finest and most rewarding '60s recordings—together or separate. The energy level here is fierce, and each musician walks a high-wire while challenging each other for session supremacy.
Adams cannot be praised enough for his agility, tone and cunning ability to transform the baritone sax from a barrel-chested reed section anchor and mannered counterpointer to a rip-roaring, relentless soloist. On his albums for Blue Note in the late '50s, Adams demonstrated the instrument's potential as a small-group catalyst and improvisational bully.
On Encounter!, there are four smoking shootouts—Inanout (Adams), Cindy's Tune (Adams), Elusive (Jones) and Verdandi (Flanagan)—featuring Adams and Sims going at it like cage-fighters. A highly aggressive player, Adams had a hair-trigger attack, and by having him square off with Sims, he seems particularly ferocious on his solos, putting Sims on the defensive. Not to be outdone, Jones shoves each one forward with crashing rolls and shattering cymbal-work. [Photo of Zoot Sims above by Doug Ramsey]
Punjab (Henderson) and Serenity (Coltrane-Henderson) are mid-tempo sassy walkers that give you a chance to hear the nocturnal, introspective quality of Adams and Sims as well as the precision of this superb rhythm section.
The ballads—The Star-Crossed Lovers (Ellington) and I've Just Seen Her (Adams)—are smokey showcases for Adams. Sims plays on the former, largely to offset Adams, but is absent from the latter. As evidenced on the second ballad track, Adams moves the sonic weight of his baritone sax around nimbly and lyrically. One can't help but imagine that these were added to give Sims a chance to catch his breath from his workouts with Adams. [Photo of Pepper Adams, above, by Russ Marshall]
Though Adams and Sims played together in the same reed sections dating back to Manny Albam's Jazz New York in 1958, Encounter! was their only slugfest. And it's easy to hear why. Who in their right mind would want to be in a studio situation where they had to keep pace with Adams?
Interestingly, the album was produced by Fred Norsworthy, who founded JazzTime Records in 1961, and Otto Gust, who started Time Is Records in 1990. How they managed to bring together Adams and Sims must be a story in and of itself.
A must-own album that shows off the glory of Adams' agility and technique as well as his unintentional penchant for making mince meat of opponents.
JazzWax tracks: You can find this gem as a download at iTunes and Amazon here.
JazzWax clip: How hot is the blowing on this album? Handle the CD with oven mitts. Here's Inanout to give you a taste...