Twenty-two years after his premature death from diabetes, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley is again coming into vogue.
Which is as it should be. Cannonball Adderley, along with this trumpet-playing brother Nat, led one of the most popular quintets in jazz for almost 20 years. His sparkling alto work and the band's energetic and bright playing were a harbinger of the fusion movement that in the early 1960s still lay ahead.
Three new albums pay homage to Cannonball a previously unissued live performance by the man himself, a new recording by his brother's quintet (the descendant of the original Adderley combo), and a tribute from European trombonist/trumpeter Nils Landgren.
The Cannonball live set, from Paris in 1960, was recorded by Norman Granz as part of his "Jazz at the Philharmonic" touring series. As with all Granz projects, the recording sound quality is first-rate and the music no less so. The band featuring, besides Cannonball and Nat, Victor Feldman on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums runs through a set of six songs, including such Adderley staples as "Jeannine" and "Dis Here."
The Nat Adderley Quintet keeps alive the Adderley tradition and the sound the brothers created together some 40 years ago. In addition to Nat on trumpet, there is Antonio Hart on alto and soprano saxes, Rob Barget on piano, Walter Booker on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. A cover of Cannonball's "Spontaneous Combustion" opens the set, which also includes two of Nat's songs ("Hummin'" and "Little Boy With the Sad Eyes"), Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" And Barget contributes a stylized little piece titled "Papa Nut" that has as sweet a melody as any song in the Adderley canon, and ought to become a permanent part of the band's repertoire.
An added bonus is that Nat sings on two songs: "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Trouble in Mind." Sings quite well, too; he doesn't have a great voice (with a very thin timbre), but has great timing and can scat with the best of them.
Not surprisingly, both the Landgren and Nat Adderley releases contain covers of the runaway 1966 Cannonball Adderley hit, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (written for the band by keyboardist Joe Zawinul).
Nat's version is closer to the original, an almost laconic backbeat laid over with searing horn work by Hart and Adderley. Landgren's version is the more creative. It opens with a slow guitar solo by Henrik Janson with Cannonball's own voice from a live recording he did providing a spoken intro. The song builds gradually, with Janson later playing two very stellar solos.
Cannonball's voice is sampled on two other songs on Landgren's tribute as well. Combined with the heavy funk beat of the album (and a vocal sample from a Jesse Jackson speech to lead off a cover of Nat Adderley's "Walk Tall"), Landgren's tribute borders on hip hop and acid jazz.
Most of the songs on this album are either covers from the Adderley book ("Primitivo" by Cannonball, "Inside Straight" and the previously mentioned "Walk Tall" by Nat, and the Zawinul piece) or tributes to the band by Landgren.
Landgren's sextet (trombone, sax, guitar, two keyboards and bass) has the same light, airy feel to its sound that the Adderley outfits have always attained. This tribute is the goods in both capturing the essence of Cannonball's music and in pushing the music forward in a manner with the Adderleys' own ethic of exploration.
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