Big Man By Cannonball Adderley

July 27, 2015


Cannonball Adderley’s life was short as he died at the age of 46 during 1975. His life was also prolific as he released close to 50 albums during the last 20 years of his life but his last release during his lifetime was the most unique.

Adderley is remembered as a jazz saxophone icon. He was a bop or hard bop jazz musician for most of his career but as time passed he fused elements of soul, jazz, and blues into his sound with varying degrees of success.

His last project was a musical based on the folk legend John Henry. His vision was brought to fruition when he recruited songwriters Diane Lambert and Peter Farrow to provide the lyrics and his brother Nat to help out with the music. Legendary singer Joe Williams and a young Randy Crawford were the lead vocalists and Robert Guillaume provided most of the dialogue. The album was a commercial failure and has never been released on CD until now. Adderley performed the music from the musical with his quintet a few times before his death.

Big Man: The Legend Of John Henry is an album rooted in its time. The Civil Rights movement was in full flower and the story hooked into that time period. The dialogue mixed in with the music make it an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. Adderley rarely created music with words, which means he traveled outside his comfort zone.

While traces of Adderley’s jazz orientation can be heard in the music, it is basically an album of folk and pop music. Joe Williams was one of the great voices of his generation and is able to adapt to the tenor of the music. Crawford would go on to a long career as a solo artist but here, at 21, she is in her recording debut and is a little tentative.

Adderley created a musical that embraced the era, if not his usual musical style. Today, it is more of a historical piece that explores a rarely seen side of jazz great Cannonball Adderley.

The Very Best Of Cannonball Adderley by Cannonball Adderley

August 26, 2012

Cannonball Adderley (1928-1975) was one of America’s premier jazz saxophonist’s during his all too short 20 year career. In addition to leading his own groups, he was a noted sideman for many of the leading jazz artists of the day, including Miles Davis, 1957-59. He also worked outside the jazz medium at times with excursions into rock and roll and rhythm & blues territory.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, his music was positive and ebullient. Yet underlying it all was a very soulful style. His sound evolved from the bop school, to Miles Davis modal phase, to the electrified funk stylings of his later career, to the commercial jazz of his signature song, “Mercy Mercy Mercy.”

His music now returns as a part of the ongoing Concord Music Group’s The Very Best Of series that resurrects some of the better tracks by many of the leading lights of American Jazz’s classic era. The Very Best Of Cannonball Adderley is an eclectic mix of 10 tracks that spans his career,but eschews his most commercially successful period with Capital Records. As such, it gives a flavor of his music but the jumps from one era to the next only scratch the surface of his sound and style.

The first and oldest track from 1958, “A Little Taste,” finds him playing with such stalwarts as pianist Bill Evans and trumpet player Blue Mitchell. His solo was one of the better excursions of his early career and is a fine introduction to his music.

“This Here” is an 11 minute live track recorded at The Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, October 20, 1959, with his quintet. He is backed by cornet player Nat Adderley, bassist Sam Jones, pianist Bobby Timmons, and drummer Louis Hayes. His lengthy solos soar over the instrumental foundations as his soulful style looks ahead to his fusions of soul and jazz.

“Know What I Mean” found him in a simpler setting as he and pianist Bill Evans are backed by only a bass and drums. The interplay between Evans and Adderley make you wish the song was longer than its five minutes.

The jump ahead to 1975, the year of his death at age 46, has synthesizer player George Duke on hand, which gave him a far different musician to play off and against. The electric rhythms present a nice example of just how far his sound had evolved and the direction it was headed.

Cannonball Adderley has been gone almost four decades, but his music still sounds vibrant. The power of his playing and the joyful and soulful sounds he could coax from his instrument are always worth a listen. The Very Best Of Cannonball Adderley is a nice slice of his music and will leave you wanting more.

Article first published as Music Review: Cannonball Adderley – The Very Best Of Cannonball Adderley on Blogcritics.

Know What I Mean? by Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans

July 2, 2011

Know What I Meanby Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans is one of six new releases by The Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series.

Cannonball Adderley, 1928-1975, was an influential and creative saxophonist who released close to 50 studio and live albums, in addition to being a prolific sideman during his three decade career. During the late 1950s he joined Miles Davis’ group for several years where he met pianist Bill Evans.

While he would achieve a great amount of recognition and commercial success with the Capital label during the mid to late 1960s, it was his time with the Riverside label, 1958-1963, that is considered his most important period. He released 17 albums for the label, but few more important than 1961’s Know What I Meanwith Bill Evans. It now returns in a cleaned-up form thanks to 24-bit remastering. Orrin Keepnews, who produced the original recording sessions, returns to write the new liner notes. The original album notes by Joe Goldberg are also included as are three bonus tracks.

Adderley recorded the album with three supporting musicians. Bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay form a solid rhythm section. It was his old sidekick, Bill Evans, who proved to be the inspired choice. He was one of jazz music’s seminal pianists and his influence is felt throughout the album. His moody tempo changes meshed well with Adderley’s pulsing rhythms.

Two Evans tunes and one of his favorites appear on the album. “Waltz For Debby” was one of his most famous compositions. It was a true jazz waltz, written in 1956, and a constant part of his stage act. Adderley’s saxophone, as a central instrument, brings a new dimension to this piano classic. Evans’ title song was created especially for the album. The guitar/sax interplay was reminiscent of their time with Miles Davis. Evans had previously recorded the Earl Zindars composition, “Elsa.” Here he changes some of the notes and adds Adderley’s saxophone to the mix.

“Toy” may be the most interesting track as Adderley’s playing goes more in an Ornette Coleman direction. “Goodbye” will always be associated with Benny Goodman. Composed during 1935, it served as his concert closer for a number or years. Adderley captures the textures and emotions just right. “Who Cares” is a welcome change of pace that allows Adderley and Evans to explore the basic theme.

Know What I Mean is a unique album in the Adderley catalogue as he moves his approach a little toward Evans’ style of music. While it comes close to being a duet album, ultimately Adderley’s saxophone soars above the mix in many places. It is an essential addition for any jazz collection.

Article first published as Music Review: Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans – Know What I Mean? on Blogcritics.