Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lou Donaldson - Blues Walk (Blue Note, 1958)

Lou Donaldson is a overlooked yet valuable figure in the history of jazz. As an alto saxophonist coming up in the crucible of the bebop movement in the 1940's and 50's he honed his chops in emulation of his hero Charlie Parker. In the 1950's he made seminal recordings with the likes of Clifford Brown and Art Blakey before launching his own career as a leader that saw him mixing his beloved bebop with blues and R&B flavored jazz to create a very popular style. He is still semi-active today and is a treat to hear as much for the stories and stage banter as his strong bop and ballads. This album is one of the many that Donaldson cut for Blue Note during the 1950's and 60's and shows some of his strongest playing. He is accompanied by Herman Foster on piano, Peck Morrison on bass, Dave Bailey on drums and Ray Barretto on congas. The album opens with the title track "Blues Walk" which uses Barretto's congas to set a nice medium groove, with the whole group eventually filling in this big pocket and Donaldson building a smoky and solid solo on top of it. The bebop anthem "Move" and "Callin' All Cats" raise the tempo to full boil and show that while Donaldson was certainly in thrall to Parker as a saxophone idol, he could build confident and scalding solo statements of his own. The saxophone solos are complex and rapid but clearly articulated and very exciting, and the accompaniment of the group is full bodied and confident. If there's one facet of Donaldson's work that hasn't gotten the respect it deserves it is his ability as a ballad player. He was featured to excellent effect on slow tempoed pieces with Jimmy Smith and Clifford Brown and on this album, "Autumn Nocturne" allows him to solo at length and build a statement that is emotional and poignant, yet never mawkish or overly saccharine. This is a very solid and consistent album of hard bop jazz, and indeed can be considered one of the classics of the era. By melding blues and soul into the tempest of bebop, Donaldson was one of the leading lights of the hard bop movement, the style which would become the de facto mainstream of jazz for decades to come. Blues Walk -

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