Gene Ammons, Joe Henderson, Booker Ervin: Late Hour Special, Canyon Lady, The Trance
Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics (OJC) series boasts almost 1000 titles, and the series is showing no signs of slowing down. Three recent additions to the OJC line are these excellent titles by tenor saxmen Gene Ammons, Joe Henderson and Booker Ervin.
Ammons recorded so often in the early 1960s that when he was in prison on drug charges from 1962-1969, Prestige could still assemble some LPs. One such LP was Late Hour Special, which came out in 1964 and presented two 1962 groups-one a ten-piece "little big band" effort arranged by Oliver Nelson, the other a quartet date with bassist George Duvivier, drummer Walter Perkins and the obscure pianist Patti Bown. Nelson's arrangements of "I Want To Be Loved (But By Only You)," "Lullaby Of The Leaves" and Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" are as delicious as one might expect, and Ammons is as charismatic on seductive ballads as he is on earthy blues.
Speaking of charisma, Henderson brings a ton of it to 1973's Canyon Lady. Many of the small, narrow minds who comprise the jazz media would have us believe that Henderson's electric Milestone output of the 1970s was a waste, but in fact, the tenorist was a wealthy of creativity during that decade-and Canyon Lady is a fine example. Henderson brings Latin overtones to the haunting title song and his own "Las Palmas," and his passionate playing on the ballad "Tres Palabras" has a rather Gato Barbieri-ish quality. Canyon Lady isn't outright Latin jazz a la Cal Tjader or Tito Puente, but the Latin element is definitely there.
One thing Booker Ervin was never mistaken for was a "cool" player-his tone was muscular and brawny, and he often swung with urgency. Ervin's roots were hard bop, but as the 1960s progressed, he got more and more into modal playing. Recorded in Munich, Germany in 1965, The Trance is a post-bop/hard bop gem that unites Ervrin with pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Alan Dawson. The tenorist spares no passion on the blues "Groovin' At the Jamboree," the standard "Speak Low" or the Middle Eastern-influenced title song (which is 19 minutes of modal heaven). Tragically, Ervin had only five years to live when this album was recorded-on July 31, 1970, he died from kidney disease at the age of 39. What a loss.