March 7th, 2008
Horace Silver is a living legend. He was there during bebop; he even composed many of the more memorable tunes. In 1955 he and Art Blakey established the Jazz Messengers, a group that would remain influential and important in the jazz canon even after Silver’s departure in 1956 and Blakey’s death in 1990. Silver was also the pianist on the influential Miles Davis album, Walkin’. His comping combined the compositional elements of a player such as John Lewis while being structured around the sounds of the blues. Silver is no doubt a great pianist, but he has always sought to reach people with his playing rather than dazzle them with flashy runs over the keys. This led him to be a pioneer in hard bop, a style of music that allowed jazz musicians to delve deep into their roots and reconnect with the blues.
Silver’s compositions are noteworthy because of the structure that permeates them. Introductions, interludes, and endings cause his pieces to be more substantial than those of the typical bebop musician where a head chart with a short piano introduction was sufficient. As a composer and bandleader he put out many albums that feature his own pieces and nothing more. Jazz musicians have preserved his compositions on the bandstand and in the studio and now they have a new collection to draw inspiration from.
Live at Newport ’58 is the result of a delightful discovery by producer Michael Cuscuna, who found this previously overlooked recording at the Library of Congress. While the CD boasts no previously unknown pieces, it does include performances of some of Silver’s lesser known compositions. What makes this 1958 recording especially important, however, is the fact that it is a live concert performance. Silver, a noted perfectionist, preferred not to record live. Until now, his only other officially released live album was Doin’ the Thing ( At the Village Gate), recorded three years later in 1961 and featuring a different line-up. The players at the 1958 concert include: Junior Cook, tenor saxophone; Louis Smith, trumpet; Horace Silver, piano; Eugene Taylor, bass; and Louis Hayes on drums. As jazz musicians and listeners focus on the different improvisations by their favorite players, they will enjoy these live versions of tunes they already know, while getting to know some of Silver’s other works.
The album starts off with an introduction of the band and then goes into the rhythm changes contrafact “Tippin’.” This piece, originally recorded as the B-side to “Senor Blues,” is little known in the Horace Silver canon but is no less brilliant than those that are more poplular. The head is sound and the solos are well built. Junior Cook is not loquacious but makes firm statements. Louis Smith also plays well but the solo that really shines is the composer’s. Horace Silver quotes liberally and even quotes the contrafact, “I Got Rhythm,” in his solo.
The album continues with “The Outlaw.” This tune has an unconventional AABC form with a tag (the A section is 13 bars, the B section is 10, the C section is 16, followed by a 2 bar tag) for a total of 56 bars. With a form like this it is common to use rhythm changes or blues as a form for blowing, but here the musicians play the form in their solos. There are great contributions from Cook and Smith, but once again it is the composer that can truly play his own tune. Silver’s solo communicates brilliantly and never fails to evoke a down home feeling.
Probably the most well known tune on the album is “Senor Blues,” a latinesque, hard grooving, minor blues played in a 12/8 shuffle meter. The tune grooves hard even though Louis Hayes shows his definite tendency to get excited and rush the beat. The trumpet solo by Louis Smith is superb (Cuscana states in his liner notes that “The trumpeter sounds eerily like his successor Blue Mitchell on the first few bars of his solo”). The piano solo is also fantastic and contains a sequencing of a blues lick that was forged out of a childhood taunt (Na-Na-Na-Na-Boo-Boo). As always, it is interesting to listen to Silver’s improvisations-they are the epitomization of composition on the spot.
Live at Newport ’58 closes with a rendition of the quintet’s theme song, “Cool Eyes.” All five men solo on this piece and, though all of the solos are great, once again it is Silver that seems to rise above. At approximately six and one half minutes in he launches into a polyrhythmic ostinato that is captivating. Even during the bass solo by Taylor it is the sparse comping of Horace Silver that make the solo complete.
The quintet featured in this 1958 concert played very well together but the group was apparently not meant to be. Smith left to return to teaching and was replaced with Blue Mitchell on trumpet. Louis Hayes left to join Cannonball and Nat Adderly and was replaced by Roy Brooks. Though the latter group went on to become what many people consider to be Silver’s classic quintet (the same group featured on Doin’ the Thing – At the Village Gate), it is wonderful do be able to hear live material from the earliest incarnation of the quintet. With a steady groove and top notch compositions it is easy to see why Horace Silver and his quintet have been mainstays in the jazz canon for over fifty years.
Posted by Ben Rice
Review Genre(s): Jazz