repost from the JAZZ DADDY Blog by Justin Scoville
November 11, 2014 | The Jazz Daddy | Leave a comment
To loosely paraphrase Jazz critic Gary Giddins, Kenny Dorham (1924-1972) has become synonymous with anything starting with “under”–underrated, understated, under-appreciated, etc. Dorham was a phenomenal bop trumpet player who was game enough to record with some of the most adventurous artists of his time, from early Thelonious Monk, to Cecil Taylor, to Andrew Hill.
Leading up to 1959, and in the decade or so to follow, Jazz history is often viewed through the lens of two giants: Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Because their influence was so enormous, it is easy to forget that many Jazz musicians were quietly advancing the music in significant, albeit more subtle, ways. Dorham was one of those overlooked artists.
As a composer, Dorham was an early pioneer of fusing Afro-Cuban elements into Jazz. He penned numerous standards (Blue Bossa, Una Mas, Lotus Blossom) that were Latin-tinged, but laced with forward-thinking harmonies and the blues. (Side note: I view Tom Harrell as a direct successor of KD, both as a trumpeter and composer).
While Miles Davis exposed the fragility of the trumpet with his “walking on eggshells” approach, Dorham explored an entirely different conception of the instrument that hearkened more to the reed family than to brass (although Dorham could blow brashly when he wanted to). Beyond his unique sound, Dorham’s polished yet organic style of articulation gave his improvisations a fascinating combination of edginess, humor, and laid-backedness.
One year removed from his own definitive recording released in 1959 (Quiet Kenny), Dorham’s Jazz Contemporary album puts all of his strengths on display with a sympathetic supporting cast. In particular, the rhythm section of Buddy Enlow (drums), Butch Warren (bass), and Steve Kuhn (piano) lay a fascinating groundwork for Dorham and baritone saxophonist Charles Davis (who later played extensively with Sun Ra). Warren’s aggressive bass lines, combined with Kuhn’s very modernistic comping and Enlow’s fiery snare, make for interesting listening. Jimmy Garrison holds down the bass chair in place of Warren on a few tracks as well.
I spoke earlier in this article about the influence of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. It would be easy to frame this album as having been recorded in their respective shadows. Enlow was a disciple of Davis’ drummer Philly Joe Jones. Kuhn would go on to briefly join Coltrane’s quartet, and was probably seen at this time as a successor to Davis’ preferred pianist Bill Evans. “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which is track #3 on this album, was also coincidentally track #3 on Davis’ iconic Workin’. And Jimmy Garrison, of course, went on to be Coltrane’s bassist through the 60’s. Charles Davis, Dorham’s saxophonist here, shows a strong Sonny Rollins influence, and Rollins was one of Miles’ early partners in crime. Despite all of those facts, I prefer to view Kenny as his own man.
“A Waltz” kicks off the album with KD swinging in 3/4, something Miles attempted sparingly in his career. “Monk’s Mood” is a challenging ballad that gets a lot of burn time with the group’s expert interpretation. “In Your Own Sweet Way” is an interesting contrast to Miles’ group rendition, with Charles Davis and Kuhn blowing furiously over the labyrinthine chord changes.
To me, “Horn Salute” is the highlight of the album. It’s a Dorham original that ingeniously blends stop-time melodies with challenging background harmonies. I believe this tune is a definite foreshadowing of Dorham’s later works with Joe Henderson. “Tonica” and “This Love of Mine” close out the album in a hard-swinging fashion.
While Jazz Contemporary may not be the most definitive Jazz album of the period, or even of KD’s discography for that matter, it still represents an interesting transitional phase for the underrated trumpeter. Each member of the band would go their separate ways to successful stints outside of Dorham’s employ, but it is reasonable to believe they all were indebted to KD for the opportunity to play in a swinging, original group.
KD Gem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUDt9-TMsXQ