VARIOUS ARTISTS / “I Remember Clifford” Mixtape
Some times even after it’s gone you don’t know how much you miss it. I mean I had even written a whole piece about Clifford, performed and recorded the prose-poem in Munich, Germany. But still I didn’t see myself as thoroughly emotionally affected even though I really was. Some wounds we get so used to carrying with us, we forget we are afflicted.
I remember a deep talk with Max Roach and he hipped me to a lot about Clifford. But, of course—Clifford was on another level. Sure, I knew when Max and I spoke over ten years ago—ten??!! Festac was thirty years ago and our talk took place when Max and I were on the board of the U.S. delegation. Anyway, I knew that Max and Clifford had been close but at that time I had no idea of how immense an influence Brownie was.
What I did know is that I really, really liked Benny Golson’s composition “I Remember Clifford.” And that song was a true composition, not just a riff with ordinary chords or a variation on Rhythm changes or even a modified blues. No, there is something in the sound of Benny’s melody that catches you and makes you reflect, if not about Clifford then certainly about something or some one in your life that’s gone.
There is a sadness at the core of this song from which you don’t recover. A sadness you learn to live with. An amputation. Part of you will not return, can not be reattached, is an irreplaceable lost.
So I put this particular Mixtape together as homage. I had so many versions from which to choose. And I just kept eliminating. Some were too much like the others. Some did not move me as much as the ones I kept. Some lacked a consistent depth. Some I just wasn’t feeling—and you “know” when you feel a deep ache. That’s what it was, the deep ache of sorrow. I wanted that. Well, at least, I wanted the music to reflect that.
That probably sounds a bit more self-conscious than I felt as I was putting the tape together. If you listen to my spoken word piece, which is written in the deceased voice of Brownie, you’ll hear me but really you’re hearing what Max told me and what all the reading I did gave me. I was a collector of ache and lined up sounds that sounded like I felt.
The opening shot, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan is there for a couple or three reasons. One, Brownie played with Blakey back in the early, early Messenger days. Two, Benny Golson, who composed “I Remember Clifford,” was in Art’s band and plays in the background on this trumpet feature. Three, Lee Morgan. All those grace notes, half valves, glisses and what have you. Lee’s phrasing is casually exquisite. He could play with a lot of bravado but this outing is more subdued and yet, yet there is a dance to it, a slow dance, solo dance that makes me go: “Oh.”
Pianist George Cables I got to via Freddie Hubbard, and though I have some of Cables’ music, I never heard him play with the Art Tatum-esque flourishes that are all over this short outing. He is both speedy and deliberate. And also extremely clever in his harmonic choices, going far afield and yet always close to home. It’s a finger busting exercise in some parts—I wonder if George was trying to get to the fleet runs that Brownie could execute with such aplomb.
Ernestine Anderson is a vocalist many may not know, but she has what the Romans used to call gravitas. She is digging deep, there must be somebody she really, really misses to be able to invest that much into those lyrics.
You probably have not heard tenor saxophonist Don Byas. He didn’t record nearly as much as his talent warranted. He spent a bunch of time overseas. He’s working here with Bud Powell on an album that was produced by Cannonball Adderley. Of the handful of Byas recordings that are easily available this album has both the best sound and a depth of horn work that pokes you in the ribs and says, “you hip to this?” Again, there is this heavy sound, this no nonsense tone, a weight of experience descending like a moonless night. Plus, Byas knows both chords and melody, comes up with startling variations, unfurled with a certainty that means he must have been on this block before.
That’s the MJQ next with super minimalism. Check out how pianist John Lewis is the main thread but always utilizing only the fewest notes necessary to sketch out the melody, and it’s vibist Milt Jackson who embellishes. It’s a wonderful performance.
Cuban maestro Gonzalo Rubalcaba working in a trio with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Julio Barreto. Gonzalo is incredible at articulating interior monologues. He sketches out the contours of a solitude condition frozen in the stillness, almost like the air at a wake when you go to view the body of a departed friend and you are the only breathing body in the room, except you hear things, swear someone is talking to you and you talking back to whomever even as you look down on the lifeless form that meant so much to you when alive. You’ll understand what I’m trying to say when you listen to what Gonzalo does.
My piece (unreleased) is one of those cosmic rambles that is meant to be a sharing of grief but it's also sort of a soft hand on the shoulder, a squeeze and a tug, “come on, let’s go. It’s alright.” But of course you don’t move. You stand there for seventeen or so more minutes, your eyes blurry, not hardly aware of nothing but a vivid past that is overwhelming, almost making you nauseous but it’s tears you’re trying to hold down.
The last track is trombonist Slide Hampton who is one of the greatest jazz arrangers in the world. What he can do with a pack of instrumentalists (a piano-less octet) approaches composition. I mean the way he hooks up a pre-existing song into something completely new is astounding. It’s almost like all of the preceding tracks were working with some notes missing and Hampton was hoarding them. That’s trumpeter Richard Williams (or could be Nat Pavone, but I think it’s Willams—the notes don’t identify who it is) channeling Brownie: lush tone but sterling, gleaming, notes on point, no muffs, direct hits, perfect pitch and an élan in the phrasing, a praise song to life, even though this is about someone deceased, but then, that’s what we do: give birth to life out of death.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
“I Remember Clifford” Mixtape Playlist
01 Jazz In Paris - 1958 - Art Blakey
02 Morning Song - George Cables
03 Ballad Essentials - Ernestine Anderson
04 A Tribute To Cannonball - Don Byas & Bud Powell
05 Dedicated To Connie - Modern Jazz Quartet
06 Diz - Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio
07 Munich Music (Volume 2 - Bavarian Gumbo) - Kalamu ya Salaam
08 Exodus - Slide Hampton
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