The Jazz Icons DVD series has proven itself time and again as an indispensable resource for serious jazz fans, as well as for newcomers to the genre. Jazz Icons: Cannonball Adderley Live In '63 is no exception, providing 99 minutes of classic performance footage. Two sets are featured, filmed within days of each other in March of 1963, capturing the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in their prime. Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was a highly respected and celebrated alto saxophonist. His style was easily accessible, making it an ideal entry point for those new to jazz. The very entertaining concerts found on this DVD have a strong emphasis on fun, groove-oriented music.
The first set was filmed in Switzerland for a television show called Jazz Stars. While it was heavily edited for broadcast, the entire 71-minute concert is presented here for the first time. Cannonball is joined by his brother Nat Adderley on cornet, Yusef Lateef on several instruments, Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. This performance was filmed in a concert hall with a live audience. Quincy Jones' "Jessica's Day" kicks things off, featuring solos from all three horn players. Lateef plays tenor sax for now. It is an exuberant start to the show.
Lateef switches to flute for what becomes a showcase for him, the lovely ballad "Angel Eyes." His tasteful solo is rather sedate, but carefully executed. Zawinul contributes an equally well-crafted piano solo. The tempo quickens for the next number, the funky mid-tempo "Jive Samba," written by Nat Adderley. This is ten minutes of pure musical fun, with Cannonball's growling and grooving solo a bluesy highlight. Nat blows up a storm on his cornet before Lateef steps in to take things a bit farther out. Sticking with flute, he musters some cool effects – overblowing and vocalizing through the instrument. "Jive Samba" is almost pop-oriented, with a very catchy melody.
"Bohemia After Dark" follows, and it's a barn-burner. After the frantic head, Cannonball offers a fairly brief solo. Nat's solo includes a neat quote of "Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." Lateef, back to tenor this time, seems to have little in the way of ideas. His solo is quite short and not very interesting. The real star of this number is drummer Louis Hayes, who literally works up a sweat during a lengthy solo. He makes the most of what is his only extended solo during the entire show.
Roughly halfway into the set, it has become clear (to those who didn't already know) that Yusef Lateef is a bit of a wild card in this group. He consistently surprises, both in his multi-instrumental abilities and in his approach to soloing. "Dizzy's Business," despite solid work from both Cannonball and Nat, demonstrates Lateef's tendencies towards risk-taking.
He is even more captivating on "Trouble In Mind," as he is featured on oboe. The oboe is not a common instrument in jazz, and his restrained playing on this blues tune provides an exotic, entrancing texture. Zawinul chimes in with a methodically constructed solo. The camera work is very effective during this segment, lingering long enough on the keyboard to really observe what his fingers are doing. Sam Jones is spotlighted next for a focused, but effortlessly performed, bass solo.
Nat Adderley's own "Work Song" will likely be the most recognizable tune for non-jazz fans. Like "Jive Samba," the head is tuneful and the groove is infectious. Nat's cornet solo is especially exciting, with staccato flurries of notes. Sam Jones' blues composition "Unit 7" closes the show, with Lateef again the highlight. His unpredictable solo starts out relatively conventionally, slowly becoming more "out there." Cannonball graciously name checks each musician during the end credits.
I must say, I was a little surprised to see that the Switzerland footage didn't quite live up to the well-established standards of the Jazz Icons series. The video is a bit too high-contrast and the focus is soft. The DVD's booklet helped shed some light on why that might be. The story behind the assembly of this footage is a great example of how much work the producers put into these releases. When they received the videotapes, not only were they incomplete, they were edited into short broadcast segments. Two songs were missing and the correct order of the setlist had not been preserved. By a stroke of good luck, it was discovered that a Swiss radio station had recorded the entire show – giving pristine audio (and correct song order) for the entire set. Even luckier was that the television station managed to locate the missing video footage and the eight-song show was reconstructed. Taking that impressive effort from all involved into consideration, a less-than-perfect visual presentation is much more forgivable.
No such concerns exist for the second set, filmed in Germany (actually two days prior to the Swiss show). This 28 minute concert, filmed in a television studio without an audience, is in perfect condition. Again, with the same group of musicians, the opener is "Jessica's Day." After that tune, the host of the show strolls out to speak with Cannonball. Introductions are given for each member of the band. Sam Jones, in particular, really lights up as Cannonball refers to him as "the ultimate" in bass playing. The show continues with Yusef Lateef's tribute to John Coltrane, "Brother John."
Lateef plays his oboe, again providing a distinctive middle eastern vibe, while also evoking Coltrane's soprano sax sound. Appearing again, this time as the final number, is "Jive Samba." To my ears, this is an even better rendition than in the Swiss set. Cannonball really gets down, throwing in some exciting trills and flutters during a rather frantic solo. Nat follows suit with an aggressive solo of his own, climaxing with some rapid-fire repeated notes. Lateef takes a turn on flute, building from a mellow start before getting a little wilder. I wasn't really familiar with much of his playing before viewing this disc. Now I'm very inspired to seek out more of his work, as he was a consistent delight throughout.
Jazz Icons: Cannonball Adderley Live In '63 is another exemplary document of classic jazz. As usual with Jazz Icons DVDs, the booklet contains a wealth of useful information about the artist. With great liner notes detailing not only these specific performances, but also providing a solid overview of Cannonball Adderley's career, the booklet earns its billing as a "Special Feature." The DVD menus allow viewers to easily access individual songs or enjoy the entire program uninterrupted. Most importantly, the audio quality is superb, allowing for continued enjoyment of this timeless music.