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Album Review

One of the trademarks of Barcelona's Fresh Sounds label is its manner of compiling the complete sessions by an artist, usually the leading lights of hard bop, mainstream, cool, and the West Coast jazz scenes early in their respective careers. These 1956-1957 sides by saxophonist Sahib Shihab were the first to really showcase him as he came into his own as a bandleader, and as a session musician who could write his own ticket. (He moved to Europe two scant years later: he relocated to Europe in 1959, settled in Denmark, and didn't return for 16 years.) Shihab had been playing professionally since he was 16, and had previously worked with Fletcher Henderson, Roy Eldridge, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Tadd Dameron, Lucky Thompson, Miles Davis, and most importantly, Dizzy Gillespie, where he first made his mark as a baritone player of great taste, power, and swing; he was in his thirties before he led his own group. Even here, on a volume under his own name, there is only one full LP to his credit, the killer Jazz Sahib and four cuts he led on. The rest comprises two albums under bassist Mort Herbert's leadership, and some compilation sides on which Shihab played. That said, there isn't anything generic or unsatisfying about the music here. The Herbert's sides were released as Night People and Jazz After Hours (the latter is a bit confusing since Shihab led on two of the cuts).

The personnel on these sides reads like a who's who of players on the New York scene: the first four cuts — all under Herbert's name, feature pianist Ronnie Ball, Don Stratton on trumpet, Shihab on baritone, and Mike Cuozzo on tenor. The drummer was none other than Kenny Clarke, whose association with Shihab would continue in one form or another until his death. This is an historic meeting in a sense, because as both men decided to leave the States, they achieved not only great fame and opportunities to work, they became entwined in one another's music in the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band and their various sextets from the 1960s and into the '70s.

Shihab's first session as a leader also features his own composition, "Hum-Bug" and the Kenny Burrell-penned "Southern Exposure." These recordings include Tommy Flanagan, trombonist Eddie Bert, a young Elvin Jones on drums, Burrell on guitar, and bassist Carl Pruitt. "Hum-Bug" is a tough bop burner with knotty heads and Jones tearing up the backbeat; the horn solos are all terrific. The last five tracks include the cuts from Herbert's second album that both Shihab and Clarke played on, and some cuts from the 1957 compilation album Jazz We Heard Last Summer. The latter record's players included Hank Jones, Addison Farmer, Danny Richmond, John Jenkins, and Clifford Jordan. Without doubt, the most slamming track from this session is "S.M.T.W.T.F.S.S. Blues" by Shihab, who doubled on alto and baritone. The heads are short and knotty and the solos intense and flowing. The second disc here offers the complete Jazz Sahib, and is a real treat because of the band: Phil Woods, Benny Golson, Shihab with two different rhythm sections. The first five cuts feature Hank Jones, Paul Chambers and Art Taylor; on the last four, Bill Evans replaces Jones and Oscar Pettiford takes the bass chair instead of Chambers. There is another version of "S.M.T.W.T.F.S.S. Blues" here, but it swings harder and burns hotter than the previous version. It is not the album's highlight, however, just one of them. Shihab wrote all but two tunes on the album, all of them solid. The shining stars on this set, however, are Melba Liston's "The Moors," with its Eastern-tinged melody and the beautiful harmonic spread of the horns, and "Ballad to the East." On the latter, Woods' solo is beautifully sensitive, and Shihab and Golson complement one another almost like singers. The final track on the disc that closes the package is another Liston tune, the wildly swinging "Bat-Dut-Du-Dat" with the latter band. It was issued on a compilation album called Jazz Is Busting Out All Over. This entire package is worth owning simply for disc two: Jazz Sahib is not in print (on CD) in any other form. Disc one is not to be denied either; there is plenty of great jazz on it, and some amazing players and solos. That said, its lack of context is sometimes a bit jarring. In addition to the music there are informative liners, and some hip photos to boot.


Born: 23 June 1925 in Savannah, GA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Besides being one of the first jazz musicians to convert to Islam and change his name (1947), Sahib Shihab was also one of the earliest boppers to use the flute. But he was also a fluent soloist on the alto, as well as the baritone sax, the latter being the instrument with which he became most frequently associated. Shihab first worked professionally with the Luther Henderson band at the age of 13 while still studying with Elmer Snowden. At 16, he attended the Boston Conservatory (1941-1942) and...
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Sahib Shihab Complete Sextets Sessions 1956-1957, Sahib Shihab
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