The Late Great Phil Seamen
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Finally, ace drummer Phil Seamen begins to get his proper due. Seamen was among the greatest drummers to come out of the British jazz scene of the mid-'50s and remained so right through to his death in 1972. Though highly regarded throughout Europe and Japan, he is known to many American jazz fans only as Ginger Baker's mentor — nonsense. This 19-track retrospective showcases Seamen playing with a number of artists, and reveals how diverse, creative, and groundbreaking it was, though bop was always at its core. The set opens with the drummer speaking, just months before his death, about how he came to play drums — too bad it's only 33 seconds long. From there it's straight to the music. "Times Getting Tougher" with Dick Morrissey and Jimmy Witherspoon was cut live at a club date in 1966. Seamen's tough, bluesy swing is as recognizable as the singer's growl The set isn't organized chronologically. It moves all over, sequenced more by vibe and variety. We can go from his work with Stan Tracey's trio in 1959, to Joe Harriott in 1961 ("Abstract" and "Tonal"), to his bopping with the Jamaican-born bop trumpeter Dizzy Reece in 1958, to his work with Kenny Graham & His Satellites (or Afro-Cubists) in 1956 and 1957; the wide scope of the music is elevated by Seamen's sharp, seamless, indelible attack and endless groove. It extends to even the last cut here, the modernist, Latin post-bop on "Reza" by the Tony Coe Quartet. Only Kenny Clarke could get the same crystalline, bell-like sound from a cymbal — but Seamen's jumped a little more. There are two small complaints with this collection: one is that it's not two discs instead of one, but it's so well-conceived and assembled, 71 minutes will have to be enough for now. The second is that none of the time Seamen spent with Tubby Hayes is documented here, though it is on the many multi-disc compilations of the saxophonist. The sound is spectacular, and the liner essay by Michael Baird is commendable for its authoritative knowledge. The Late Great Phil Seamen is highly recommended for serious jazz heads.