Sonny Clark Trio The 1960 Time Sessions With George Duvivier And Max Roach

You don’t have to be a Blue Note fetishist to know that pianist Sonny Clark made at least one great and enduring album, the 1958 hard bop classic “Cool Struttin’, though the cult of Cool Struttin’ has driven up the price of original pressings to the $4000 range and higher.

Clark died of a heroin overdose in 1963 five years after the release of Cool Struttin’, which didn’t allow the hard bop pianist to construct a robust discography or a great deal of visibility among jazz aficionados.

Also conspiring against Clark, according to annotator Ben Ratcliff, were the trendy critics of that time who had moved on from hard bop to “the next big thing”, which was the more experimental music of Miles, Mingus, Coleman and others.

That is why, Ratliff writes, so little was written about Clark and why there does not exist a full interview. The older hard bop guys like Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, and Stanley Turrentine —now revered by Blue Note fans because they were among that label’s stars—were “rank and file” compared to “the new thing” artists. Clark, though a youngster, was categorized with them.

None of that matters today, other than to point out why Clark’s place at the jazz table was never set. Ratliff provocatively calls this set, recorded for Bob Shad’s Time Records January 5th and 6th 1960 at New York’s Bell Studios a “non masterpiece masterpiece”. The music is non-experimental, as easily digested as an Errol Garner soufflé and yet backed by 35 year old Max Roach and 39 year old bassist George Duvivier, it rocks in a way that’s right in the pocket of young jazz fans (and old ones too).

Clark’s improvisations unfold with an easily understood elegant yet playful logic. You’ll hear musical and stylistic quotes. A bit of Monk but less angular, Bud Powell and Art Tatum too. I caught an “Annie Get Your Gun” quote and a bit of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" among some familiar musical quips.

According to Ratliff, the seemingly far more cerebral Bill Evans was a big Sonny Clark fan. The track “NYC’s No Lark” on Evans’ multi-tracked solo album Conversations With Myself is an anagram of Sonny Clark’s name.

This reissue fulfills all of the new vinyl’s many tasks. It brings to the attention of the new “vinyl culture” audience a somewhat obscure but easily digested and appreciated artist, giving a deserving album—Clark’s first on which he composed all of the tunes—another shot at popularity, informing the buyer with useful notes by Mr. Ratliff in the gatefold jacket along with Nat Hentoff’s original notes from the somewhat obscure 1960 Time Records single LP release. In addition to the original record a second album provides six alternate takes of four of the tunes. As is often the case, these are not as good as the chosen takes but they do provide an interesting and instructive contrast. In these ways this betters just another reissue of a well-known classic.

David Donnelly digitally mastered this from the original tapes, but it’s unclear who cut lacquers. Had I not known it was digitally mastered I’d have not guessed it for two reasons: first of all I don’t have an original with which to compare it, and secondly the sound is so damn three dimensional and utterly natural with Clark’s piano dead center, Roach mostly on the right chanel and Duvivier notably behind Clark. You’ll like the sound. It’s “of a time” and more “track assigned” than more modern recordings, but the direct feed quality of the overall sound trumps all.

Highly and easily recommended!

kruhlin's picture

I agree the music is outstanding, unfortunately the pressing is so poor (noisy) on the first record in my set that I can't enjoy it. I'd give the sound a 4.

JayTrez's picture

I assume you are referring to the Classic, though MM notes your name in the album description.

Franzson's picture

Record one of my set also sounded poorly pressed. Record two sounded better.

disjmr's picture

The first copy I received, fom Amazon UK, had little chips out of about an inch of the edge of the vinyl on LP1. In 50 years of collecting, I‘ve never seen this fault before - it looked like it had been nibbled by vinyl-loving mice.

The second copy I received was perfectly pressed , with silent surfaces on all 4 sides. So very happy now, but how on earth did the first copy get out of the pressing plant...?

McRCN's picture

I picked up this LP on RSD. Enjoyed the performance overall and the sound. Not a MM level pressing, but my copy is not as noisy as some others above have mentioned.

Atane's picture

A snippet from the review... "According to Ratliff, the seemingly far more cerebral Bill Evans was a big Sonny Clark fan."

What makes Bill Evans "seemingly far more cerebral" than Sonny Clark?

cisraels's picture

Having played with both extraordinary musicians, I'd be hard pressed to find one more cerebral than the other. Both were thoughtful, soulful musicians -- two deeply satisfying colleagues.

Delhi's picture

When I was younger, my mom used to play Cool Struttin continuously, so I associate it with some very fond memories. Everytime I hear someone playing it, I get nostalgic. Just like a few weeks back, an elderly couple I know played it at a party they after the wedding of their son. I was bombarded with memories.