Oliver Nelson, who is best known for his 1961 classic "Blues and the Abstract Truth," managed to record quite a few albums before turning his attention to arranging and writing for Hollywood. In fact, I had never heard any of the albums in this collection other than the aforementioned "Blues...," and "Nocturne," a beautiful record made with Lem Winchester for the Moodsville label in 1961. With that in mind, I began exploring "Eight Classic Albums" by listening to "Meet Oliver Nelson," the earliest date in this set (1959). This is a strong effort, finding the multi-talented Nelson (who played alto, tenor and soprano saxophones) teamed up with Kenny Dorham, Ray Bryant, Wendell Marshall and Art Taylor and turning in a gorgeous version of Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower" along with four Nelson originals. I turned next to "Main Stem," a Latin-flavored session from 1961 with Joe Newman, Hank Jones, George Duvivier, Charlie Persip and Ray Baretto. This is another strong date that also features four Nelson originals. "Takin' Care of Business," a 1960 album featuring Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Lem Winchester, again features four Nelson tunes supplemented by Sonny Rollins's "Doxy" and Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's "All the Way." This is an excellent post-bob date with the Hammond organ providing soul-based color.
While all of these albums are evidence of Oliver Nelson's versatility, the 1961 date with Eric Dolphy, improbably named "Straight Ahead," shows him to be unafraid of exploring new musical territory. While "Straight Ahead" opens with the impressionistic "Images" and then proceeds to a modal "Six and Four," the title track erupts into Coltranesque waves of sound. One may scratch one's head and wonder how that track fits with the other Oliver Nelson, but the whole album, with its blend of modern, post-bop and ultra-modern, hangs together in a completely convincing way.
Although multi-tenor "battle"-type sessions usually don't appeal to me, I ended up liking "Soul Battle." The three tenors, including King Curtis and Jimmy Forrest, complement rather than compete with each other and the musical results are eminently satisfying. The highly regarded "Screamin' the Blues" (1960), another meeting with Eric Dolphy (in only slightly tamer form playing alto, bass clarinet and flute), features all Nelson originals except one. The long opening track is a traditional blues and while I can't say it's particularly unique, the ending struck me as familiar: I'm almost certain it emerged a few years later in the blues-rock classic "Super Session." While there are two exceptional Nelson songs, "The Drive" and "Three Seconds," it's Dolphy that makes this album interesting, adding character and diversion with his eruptions and unexpected flashes of brilliance.
I mentioned "Blues and the Abstract Truth" only in passing because it's an acknowledged classic that needs no recommendation; and "Nocturne" will have you hooked after one listen. All in all, this is a superb package of albums offered in excellent sound.
Includes the following albums:
- Meet Oliver nelson
- Soul Battle
- Taking Care of Business
- Main Stem
- Screamin the Blues
- The Blues and the Abstract Truth
- Straight Ahead