Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sam Most and Rein de Graaff – Bebop Revisited

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

It's not very often these days that one gets to visit with straight-ahead Beboppers.

Jazz, like everything else, is a “product-of-its-time,” and, as someone once said: “The times, they are-a-changing.”

Of course, today’s younger players re-visit Jazz standards from the Bebop canon, but they can’t help but reinterpret these tunes and to make them their own because they hear the music in a different way.

Boppers like Bird, Bud, Diz, Miles and even the subsequent hard-boppers like Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Elmo Hope and Sonny Clark are not the influence that predominates in today’s Jazz.

Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Jazz-Rock fusion, World Music … these, and many others, are the influences that color contemporary Jazz.

Like all generalizations, there’s plenty of room for dispute in the one I’m asserting, but I’m making it to serve a point.

And the point is that you don’t often here music played today like the ten tracks that populate a recently released Timeless CD entitled – The Rein de Graff Trio Meets Sam Most [CDSJP-485].

Rein was kind enough to send the editorial staff at JazzProfiles a copy and I thought it would be nice bring it to your attention for a number of reason, not the least of which is because it contains a ton of good music.

Being a former drummer, let’s begin with my bias – the rhythm section which is made up of Rein on piano, Marius Beets [pronounced “Bates”] on bass and Eric Ineke on drums.

Rein, Marius and Eric play good time: it’s crisp with just the right amount of lift and push. There’s a marriage between Marius’ bass line and Eric’s cymbal beat. They blend together and don’t conflict with one another so the time has a buoyancy to it.

With the exception of Marius [the “youngster” in the group], Rein, Eric and Sam have each been “speaking Bebop” for over 50 years and they speak the “language of Bebop,” very well indeed.

This fluency makes the phrasing of their musical ideas sound almost effortless, but this simplicity of expression is the sign of a true master. Nothing is forced in the music on this recording, it all just flows.

Rein “comps” [accompanies] beautifully behind Sam; constantly feeding him chords, or nudging him with rhythmic phrases and Marius and Eric just lay down the rhythm with a solid, metronomic beat.

Nothing is rushed; nothing is pressed or strained. One gets a chance to hear the music play out.

Sam doesn’t have the biggest or most robust tone on flute, but his sound is pure, warm and mellow.

And he knows what he wants to say and, whatever the tempo, he just takes his time in expressing it.

In a way, Rein has the toughest “job” of all because he has to be a part of the rhythm section, accompany Sam and also perform as a soloist.

But on this recording, Rein more than rises to the occasion and plays throughout the CD with a consistent coherence of ideas and style that brings me back to why I was attracted to Bebop in the first place.

Since the opening track Alone Together sets the tone for what follows in the remainder of the recording, I thought perhaps I’d stop here and insert an audio-only version of the tune as an example of what I have discussing to this point.

Jeroen de Valk’s insert notes explains how the recording came out and some of its salient features.

© -Jeroen de Valk, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“According to Sam Most's website, there should be no doubt about it: he was the world's first modern jazz soloist on the flute. In 1952 - he would turn 22 later that year - he recorded 'Undercurrent Blues' and thus made history. It would be impossible indeed to find an earlier recording with a decent bebop solo on the flute.

We do know for sure that Herbie Mann - a prominent flutist himself - gave his colleague full credit as a pioneer. Mann stated in an interview: "When I started playing jazz on flute, there was only one record out: Sam Most's 'Undercurrent Blues'. Not too many people know this, but Sam was also the first jazz flutist to sing and play together. The order of jazz flutists is Wayman Carver with the Chick Webb Band, Harry Klee with Phil Moore, and Sam Most - then the rest of us followed."

We know for sure as well that Sam Most was among the musician's musicians Dutch pianist Rein de Graaff would love to play with all his life. In his biography 'Belevenissen in Bebop' ('Adventures in Bebop', 1997), Rein mentions Sam Most as one of the lost heroes'; fine musicians who never became a household name, for various reasons and finally just seemed to have disappeared.

As Rein puts it, Sam happened to be 'at the wrong time at the wrong place'. "From the early 60s on, he worked mostly as a studio musician. As a result, he recorded extensively, but hardly ever as a leader. And: he was based in Los Angeles, not in New York, the country's jazz capital."

Rein, as a young man, adored the recordings Sam made for the Bethlehem label in the mid 50s. "After gaining experience in the reed sections of big bands, he won several jazz polls as a flutist. But after the 50s, I didn't hear from him again until the late 70s, when he was rediscovered by Don Schlitten, producer of the Xanadu label.
Schlitten featured him extensively, also as a member of the Xanadu All-Stars who were recorded live at the jazzfestival in Montreux. That was one of Sam's very rare appearances in Europe."

Schlitten reissued some of Most's earlier masterpieces and featured him on four albums as a leader during the period 1976-79; one of these, 'Mostly Flute", was awarded with the maximum of five stars in the prestigious All Music Guide to Jazz. According to the guide, 'Most makes the most difficult ideas sound effortless'.

A few years ago, Rein performed at the jazz festival organized by the Los Angeles Jazz Institute. "I checked the program and noticed there was a 'Sam Most Quintet' scheduled! I thought he had passed away long ago. Anyway, I attended his concert and he was just dynamite. I remember him opening with 'Confirmation': fast, precise and swinging real hard."

The two shook hands and agreed to do a tour together, late 2011, with Rein's regular trio, featuring Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums. The trio toured and recorded through the years with literally hundreds of American visitors, including Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and many, many others. Rein: "We also backed quite some prominent flute players; Frank Wess, James Moody and Lew Tabackin, just to name a few." Eric Ineke has been part of the trio for over forty years. Marius, a generation younger, joined Rein in the late 90s.

Sam Most, in the Netherlands for the first time, turned out to be a kind, soft-spoken senior citizen. Rein: "Working with him was extremely easy. He reminded me of Al Cohn, with whom we had recorded as well. Al was doing crossword puzzles in the studio, as if he couldn't care less, but when it was time for him to blow, he played his brains off. We went into the recording studio with Sam after the tour. The band was so tight by that time, that we recorded solely tunes we hadn't done before on stage. We needed just one take for each tune. Discussing the repertoire took just a few minutes. It was like: 'You know that tune?' 'Let's do it.' Sam always plays attractive lines, knows the chords inside out and swings consistently." Sam Most concentrated on the flute and the alto flute -except for a short excursion on the rarely heard bass flute in 'Ghost Of A Chance'.

This CD is issued in 2012, exactly sixty years after Sam's recording debut as a flute soloist. Many years as a studio musician have kept him not only in relative obscurity, but also in good health, not having to be 'on the road' most of the year. In his 80s, Sam Most is still quietly blowing up a storm.

-Jeroen de Valk”

The following video contains, as its sound track, the group performing Indian Summer.

If you find yourself in the mood to listen to a current manifestation of Bebop in its purest form, I can’t recommend Sam and Rein’s new CD too highly as a source for satisfying that interest.