Cannonball Adderley: Know What I Mean?

Joyful 1961 sessions of jazz legends Adderley and Evans

This 1961 session, pairing saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and pianist Bill Evans has several interesting dimensions. Adderley and Evans, having played together as part of the 1958 Miles Davis Sextet, were familiar with one another, but initially only as sidemen. Evans had supported Adderley in a quintet setting, on 1958’s Portrait of Cannonball, and here they play in a quartet setting with the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums. Without a second horn in the combo, there’s more space for Adderley, but rather than trying to fill it, he lets the songs breathe. Evans draws Adderley into a leisurely, joyous groove, and in turn, Adderley draws a harder element of swing from Evans.

The iconic “Waltz for Debby” opens the album with Evans’ lovely, florid piano setting the stage for Adderley’s brilliantly swinging sax. Adderley keeps his tone warm, adding only a few harder-blown notes for color, and Evans returns the favor by playing a fluid solo whose swing is made in perfectly selected accents. Adderley plays a languid, late-night solo on Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye,” which Evans compliments with lyrical runs, and the leisurely “Elsa” includes some thoughtful, nearly meditative piano lines. The mid-tempo take on the Gershwins’ title track finds the rhythm section starting to drive, and by the time they hit Clifford Jordan’s “Toy,” all four players are cooking.

Evans’ legendary trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian would cut their seminal live sides at the Village Vanguard a few months after these sessions, and then disappear with the death of bassist LaFaro. Evans retreated and eventually retrenched, but those live sides and this session with Adderley capture him at a peak of musical freedom and joy to which he never seemed to fully return. Concord’s latest reissue of this Riverside title was newly remastered in 24-bits by Joe Tarantino and adds alternate takes of “Who Cares?” “Know What I Mean?” and “Toy,” from the original sessions. The first two have appeared on previous reissues, while the third is previously unissued. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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