Returning with HYENA, Joel Dorn, who’s often been deemed (for better or worse) a populist himself, begins the fourth in a series of record labels (Night Records, 32 Records & Label M) that have allowed him to treasure hunt, mining gems from music’s vaults (Atlantic Records, Muse Records & The Left Bank Jazz Society), while also recording a select roster of new artists (Leon Parker, James Blood Ulmer & The Jazz Passengers). Fittingly Dorn comes full circle with HYENA, reissuing the four long out of print albums that started it all on his first label, Night Records: The Man Who Cried Fire by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Radio Nights by Cannonball Adderley, Les Is More by Les McCann and A Tale of Two Cities by Eddie Harris.
“These records are the equivalent to audio verite, soundtracks to documentaries that don’t exist,” states Dorn. “They’re the audio equivalent of auteur filmmaking.”
Nearly impossible to find, and frequently the subject of discussion on internet jazz boards, the four Night Records’ titles are commonly considered minor classics, capturing the artists in a pure setting without any of the self-consciousness and pressure that accompanies the making of “live” albums. “The beauty here is that none of the artists knew they were recording records during the taping of these shows. This is how the music actually went down,” says Dorn. “It’s a living history of what happened in the clubs on those nights.”
The Man Who Cried Fire makes a case for Rahsaan Roland Kirk being one of the most expansive artists in the history of jazz. A near master of every instrument he picked up, Kirk blows sweet and lovely on “Slow Blues” and the second interlude of “New Orleans Fantasy,” two rare examples present here of Rahsaan’s clarinet playing. The opening to the latter also catches Kirk joyously erupting on a piece with The Olympia Brass Band at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. “You Did It, You Did It” and “Multi-Horn Variations” find Kirk, in typical fashion, blowing the boundaries off any pre-conceived lines of what jazz should be. However, if there’s one defining attribute of this “live” document, it’s the proof positive of how brilliant Kirk could play straight and inside, whether it be the exotica of the manzello on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” his gloriously swinging tenor sax on “Unidentified Tenor Selection” or the gorgeous and soaring flute of “A Visit From The Blues.”
Cannonball Adderley’s Radio Nights was culled from two weeks of performances in 1967 and ’68 at New York City’s old Half Note. The performances were originally broadcast “live” by noted jazz disc jockey Alan Grant. Adderley’s featured here in variations of his legendary group, featuring brother Nat Adderley on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd, pianist Joe Zawinul, bassist Sam Jones, and drummers Roy McCurdy and Louis Hayes. The dynamic of this line-up, built upon the inherent communication between its members, was like few groups before or after. As the disc’s liner notes acknowledge, Cannonball never went on stage with a set list, preferring to feed off the audience’s energy in deciding what to play. “The Little Boy With The Sad Eyes,” and “Unit Seven” showcase the seemingly telepathic swing that Cannon and company could invoke. On “Work Song,” Cannon’s little big band horn arrangements accompany the solo sections, pushing its energy to another level. Once the train got rolling, Adderley’s sextet was driven by the force of its own momentum. One final bonus is a montage to end the record drawn from performances at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco with Nat coming on as a sanctified country preacher and Cannon getting deep into the blues.
A Tale of Two Cities is drawn from two separate performances in 1978 and ‘83 by the grossly under-appreciated saxophonist Eddie Harris. Like all of the artists featured in the Night Records’ series, Harris facilities prove genius in the many settings he explores. His tone and phrasing are original and distinct whether it’s the unhurried, rock solid, 13-minute groove of “Chicago Serenade” or the hyper-paced bebop of “Cherokee.” Harris was often criticized for breaking with jazz tradition, but performances such as “Don’t Let Me Go,” where Harris invokes Billie Holiday by singing through his saxophone, while backed by a multi track recording of himself as a string section, are as ambitious as any ever attempted by a jazz artist. On the rare groove classic, “Listen Here,” Harris employs the same approach, but this time he plays along with himself as the rhythm section.
There could not be a more apt title than Les Is More for a “live” record by one of jazz’s most soulful pianists. Drawing as heavily from gospel and R&B as jazz, McCann’s playing is economical, relying as much on what he doesn’t play as what does. The opening trio performance of “Maleah,” is a nod to Amhad Jamal with McCann slowly stretching the melody over a steady, in the pocket rhythm. His left hand provides a steady foundation for the song to dance and twirl. Throughout the disc, interviews with McCann are featured as segues between songs, the first discussing McCann’s now classic soul ballad, “With These Hands.” Not only is McCann’s ability as an artist and entertainer front and center, but the album draws from McCann’s own personal tape collection made during years of recording other artists “live” in nightclubs. Documented here are performances by Roberta Flack, Cannonball Adderley and Carmen Mcrae, as the album takes us on surreal journey through the all night blowing sessions of ‘60s jazz joints. It’s a time machine that drops us in a bygone era of wonderfully inspired and magic music. Finally, we are given more Les, with a rollicking version of “Little Blue Volkswagon” and a slithery smooth take on “Clapformation,” with a young Gerald Albright on saxophone. Les’ comedic style gives Redd Fox a run for his money on the Charlie Parker tale “Bird Story.” Fittingly, the CD closes with a soul clapping, foot stomping reprise of McCann’s biggest hit “Compared To What.”