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Music Review: The Cannonball Adderley Quintet – Legends Live: Cannonball Adderley Quintet

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Legends Live, along with Big Bands Live, pull together previously unreleased and remastered performances of major American jazz figures from the archives of the German broadcaster Südwestrundfun.  After WWII, many bands took the opportunity to tour through Europe, and they found welcome in the cities of Germany as well as in the allied countries. They played to enthusiastic crowds in Freiburg, Karlsruhe, and Stuttgart among other places, and it is estimated that about 1,600 audio and more than 350 television recordings of their performances have been gathering dust over the years waiting to see the light of day.

Jazzhaus is a new label launched in the U.S. by Naxos of America and Arthaus Musik to get these live concerts out of the vault and into the hands of jazz fans. They have scheduled the first three releases in the series—a 1959 concert by Benny Goodman’s band, a 1977 concert by the Gerry Mulligan Sextet, and this recording of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet at the Liederhalle Stuttgart from March of 1969—for the end of March.

Legends Live: Cannonball Adderley Quintet is a collection of nine tracks that emphasize the ensemble’s versatility and range. There are brilliant examples of the quintet’s signature, soulful blues sound: “Sweet Emma,” “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” Work Song,” and “Walk Tall.” The only thing missing is their most famous crossover gem, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” While these may not be as innovative as some of the other tracks on the album, I must say they are plenty good enough. Adderley was always quite willing to play some for the less sophisticated jazz fan, and for many these are when he and the quintet are at their best.

This is not to say that the band is not at home with an edgier sound. The set starts with “Rumpelstiltskin,” a composition by pianist Joe Zawinul (who also wrote “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”). This is a nine-minute-plus romp that has Adderley opening with a jumping solo on his alto followed by brother Nat’s cornet that swings like early Miles Davis. Zawinul’s piano is from another world. “The Painted Dessert,” another Zawinul composition, offers another opportunity for the band to show its chops as it moves through a range of tempos with joyful abandon. And when Nat comes in for his solo, I’ll be damned if he’s not channeling Miles Davis. Zawinul’s piano work is something special, dynamic and idiosyncratic.

Looking back to the band’s bebop roots, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue and Boogie” features an extended drum solo by Roy McCurdy. “Oh Babe,” a Nat Adderley composition, is a classic blues with a vocal by the composer. “Somewhere,” from West Side Story, begins with a wistful statement of theme by the alto and builds to a climactic moment before drifting away to that hoped for somewhere. It is a stellar performance by the leader.

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About Jack Goodstein