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Sonny's Crib

Sonny Clark

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Album Review

Recorded in 1957, Sonny's Crib features a front line of Curtis Fuller, Donald Byrd, and John Coltrane with Sonny Clark on piano, Art Taylor on drums, and Paul Chambers on bass. Truly still a bebop recording, done a full year before the landmark Cool Struttin' session, nonetheless the set produced some awesome readings of classic tunes, like the opener, "With a Song in My Heart," with one of the knottiest Byrd solos ever. As Chambers and Taylor up the rhythmic ante and Clark comps with enormous chords in the background, the entire line solos, but it is Byrd's that is stunning in its complexity — though Coltrane could play bebop as well as anybody. The most notable tracks on the session are the classic readings of Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" and "News for Lulu," the latter of which has been adopted by John Zorn as his theme. On the former, Clark's rearrangement, with Coltrane leading the front line, is truly revelatory. Using a Latin rhythm in cut time, Clark sets up a long, 22-note melody line that moves right into Trane's solo. He moves the key around and harmonically shifts gears as Clark follows and stays in the pocket for him while Trane uses the middle register for legato pyrotechnics. Fuller's next and covers over the blues inherent in the tune with pure swing, before Byrd brings it back into the fold with a gorgeous counterpoint of the melody. Clark taps his way into extended harmonics on the sixths and sharpens the accents as he trounces the original key and plays double trills to get back. The latter is a smokin' Latin take on the hard bop blues, with a staggered melodic line and a large tonal palette that gives the horn players room to explore the timbral possibilities of Clark's colors — which are revealed in the loosest, skittering skein of bluesy phrasing this side of Horace Silver in his solo. In all, Sonny's Crib is a phenomenal recording, one that opened the door to hard bop becoming the norm in the late '50s, and one that drew deft, imaginative performances from all its players.

Biography

Born: July 21, 1931 in Herminie, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s

Like Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker before him, Sonny Clark's life was short but it burned with musical intensity. Influenced deeply by Bud Powell, Clark nonetheless developed an intricate and hard-swinging harmonic sensibility that was full of nuance and detail. Regarded as the quintessential hard bop pianist, Clark never got his due before he passed away in 1963 at the age of 31, despite the fact that it can be argued that he never played a bad recording date either as a sideman or as a leader....
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Sonny's Crib, Sonny Clark
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