Review Summary: It’s as if these two tenors are too satisfied with the way their life is evolving, or with the topography of contemporary jazz itself, to engage in any sort of showmanship.
Both born in 1931 and raised in Chicago, tenor saxophonists Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore scaled the heights of hard bop style motifs with a 1957 collaborative project that served as their shared album-length debut. A touch less intense than contemporaneous blowin’ sessions (like, uh, A Blowin’ Session
), the aptly named Blowing in From Chicago
showcases both the fluid phrasing of its constituent soloists and the deep, almost unfathomably tight rhythmic pocket generated by bassist Curly Russell, pianist Horace Silver, and ever-propulsive drummer Art Blakey. Doubling up on a particular instrument in a performance context almost always engenders an element of competitiveness in the proceedings, but this album finds each performer totally at ease with themselves and with their fellow musicians. Jazzwax.com tells me that Jordan is the one who mellows out whereas Gilmore plays with a more aggressive tone, and that befits their statuses as, respectively, roots-oriented narrator of human consciousness and adventurous Sun Ra associate. But take a single listen to the chorus of Jordan originals “Bo-Till” (or is it “Bo-Fill”? Nobody seems to know) or “Evil Eye” and the necessity of singling out one performer over another will dissipate—like Waiting for Godot
’s Vladimir and Estragon, Jordan and Gilmore conjure the illusion of supernatural association.
The perfectly curated tunes on Blowing in From Chicago
only further this magical effect. Each of the six songs on display possess an uncannily satisfying sense of continuity, as if they could go on forever without a loss of force or interest. Opener “Status Quo,” penned by Chicago-born jazz history footnote John Neely, has the formula down pat; a sonic narrative in miniature, the song lithely balances rhythmic horsepower with a chatty melody, a supremely expressive balance that befits the joyful noise of these consummate improvisational artists. Then there’s the indelible Charlie Parker composition “Billie’s Bounce,” which serves as the album’s centerpiece: however much we can thank Parker for stuffing what seems like years of dynamic camaraderie into one twirling chorus, Jordan and Gilmore are game to link that chorus to expansive phrasing and a sense of moderation in tone while they solo.
Moderation, after all, is key to Blowing in From Chicago
—not once does the album approach the screaming pace of the Griffin/Coltrane/Mobley anthem “The Way You Look Tonight” or Rollins/Stitt’s “I Know That You Know,” both recorded the same year. It’s as if these two tenors are too satisfied with the way their life is evolving, or with the topography of contemporary jazz itself, to engage in such showmanship. Yet buoyant life thrives within these conventions. Listen to the slick, vaguely ominous chorus of “Evil Eye,” or witness the joy and spontaneity with which Blakey rushes into the final chorus of “Bo-Till”. Sticking to the rhythmic and improvisational traditions of their bebop forebears, Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore furnish infallible proof that a headlong sprint into the future need not be the only means of unearthing a whole heart, a soul. Once in a while, in a felicitous set of circumstances, one need only glance backwards with a modicum of respect and dignity in order to discern the riches of artistic craft.