Elvin Jones - drums; Steve Grossman - tenor sax, soprano sax; Frank Foster - tenor sax; Roland Prince - guitar; Milton Suggs - bass
Elvin Jones' appearance at the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival in New York captured the drumming great with a rarely heard quintet featuring the twin tenors of Steve Grossman and former Basie-ite star Frank Foster along with bassist Milton Suggs and guitarist Roland Prince. This was a transitional band for Elvin, falling between his larger ensemble of 1973 (which had recorded the Blue Note albums At This Point in Time and The Prime Elements) and his 1975 trio with bassist Gene Perla and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Indeed, the only recording that exists of this group is Mr. Thunder, an import on the Swedish East West label (and that album does not feature Foster in the lineup). For Elvin complete-ists, this concert is a special treat.
Jones had left John Coltrane's classic quartet in March of 1966 and was forging quite a career as a bandleader in his own right, touring and recording in both small and large group configurations. Approaching his 47th birthday at the time of this Avery Fisher Hall performance, Elvin was definitely on top of his game in fueling the heated proceedings here. His special edition quintet opens with guitarist Roland Prince's "Antigua," a spirited calypso named for his homeland. The two tenors of Grossman and Foster harmonize on the buoyant melody as Jones does his rolling thunder thing around the kit behind them. Sugg's forceful walking basslines groove the track as Grossman and Foster take turns soloing, with Grossman showing a decided Trane influence in his passionate playing. Prince's solo is appropriately upbeat and melodic on this lively calypso-jazz offering, sounding like an islands version of Barney Kessel or Howard Roberts. Jones simmers behind Suggs' bass solo before unleashing a percussive fusillade on the kit that should simultaneously confound and amaze jazz drumming connoisseurs.
Next up is Foster's "Someone's Rocking My Jazz Boat," a decidedly funky answer to the old Tin Pan Alley chestnut, "Someone's Rocking My Dream Boat."
Grossman switches to soprano sax for this groove-oriented number, blending nicely with Foster's tenor on the head before heading to the stratosphere on another Coltrane-esque solo. Prince turns in a potent guitar solo as the piece opens up, with Jones simultaneously keeping a backbeat and coloring around it with his rapid-fire traversing of the kit. And he lets loose with a powerhouse flurry on the kit when the band drops out and leaves the drumming great to solo with impunity. The piece reaches a fever pitch as Foster and Grossman weave serpentine lines around each other at the tag. They close out their set with Jones' hard-hitting signature number, "Three Card Molly" (from 1971's Genesis), which effectively straddles the boundary between hard bop and avant-garde. With Grossman on soprano sax and Foster on tenor sax, the two horns build to ecstatic solos while Elvin and crew swing insistently underneath. Prince's oddly angular solo here adds to the edgy, off-kilter nature of this kinetic closer. Jones orchestrates his most dynamic solo of the set here before the band returns and builds to a tumultuous climax, bringing a close to their exhilarating '74 Newport set.
A bona fide Hall of Fame drummer, Elvin Ray Jones was born on September 9, 1927, in Pontiac, Michigan. With his brothers Hank on piano and Thad on trumpet, the Jones brothers emerged on Detroit's jazz scene in the late 1940s. Elvin became the house drummer at the Bluebird Inn, where he backed such visiting jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Grey, and Miles Davis. After moving to New York in 1955, he began working with the likes of Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, the Pepper Adams-Donald Byrd Quintet, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, and Sonny Rollins. Following a six-month stint with Miles Davis, Jones joined John Coltrane's group, first appearing on the sax great's 1960 Atlantic album, Coltrane Jazz. With McCoy Tyner on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass, they represented one of the most formidable groups in jazz during the '60s, releasing a string of such important recordings as Ballads, Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions, Crescent, and A Love Supreme. During the '60s, Jones also played on several important Blue Note recordings by the likes of Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Grant Green, Joe Henderson, and Andrew Hill. In 1971, Jones played the character Job Cain in the highly impressionistic Hollywood film Zachariah, appearing as a gunslinger/drummer.
As a leader, Jones recorded prolifically through the '80s and '90s for several labels, including Enja, PM, Vanguard, Denon, Storyville, Evidence, and Landmark. He also toured frequently with his Jazz Machine, whose ranks over time included such musicians as saxophonists Dave Liebman, Joe Farrell, George Coleman, Pat LaBarbera, Sonny Fortune and Ravi Coltrane, guitarist Ryo Kawasaki, pianist Willie Pickens, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and bassists Richard Davis and Chip Jackson, among many others. He remained active into the 2000s and died of a heart attack on May 18, 2004, at age 76. (Milkowski)