Review Summary: easy now.
Ike Quebec's story certainly has a flair for tragedy. He died in January of 1963 at the age of 44, shortly after this recording session took place and at the very peak of his creative prowess. Prior to that, he spent much of his career as a saxophonist in the background of the big band scene before finally securing a well-earned spot at Blue Note records in '59 as a recording musician, and later in '62 as a talent scout as well. He was well-suited for these jobs thanks to his discerning ear and broad swath of stylistic expertise, but Ike never really took sides when the swing and bop movements witnessed a hard split and he payed the price of obscurity on the record shelves for it. Nonetheless, his talent as a vibrant and lyrical saxophonist was evident everywhere he went. Big, breathy, dextrous and soulful, Quebec was a man with undeniable talent, and in the months leading up the recording session that captured the breezy and totally vibin' Easy Living
(orginally released as Congo Lament
with a slightly altered tracklist), he was firing on all cylinders at last. First, the organ-rich Heavy Soul
was recorded, and then Might As Well Be Spring
and the beautiful Blue & Sentimental
all in the span of a few weeks. He was on a roll, taking those decades in the background and forging them into a tour de force
of striking craftsmanship. The only thing that could've stopped him was his own health, and indeed it did when lung cancer claimed his life only days after his contemporary Sonny Clark bid farewell to this mortal coil. Sonny was also the pianist here on the Easy Living
Although this was one of his last studio works before his passing, Easy Living
's special place amongst the catalogues of jazz aficionados isn't all sentimentality, it's the joy and finesse of the record that really earns its keep. Things kick off with Ma Rainey's unmissable blues standard "See See Rider", and here it gets a treatment of the highest order, with an intoxicating display from the frontmen and a butter-smooth showing from the rhythm section of Art Blakey and Milt Hinton. It's all topped off with a wildly attention-grabbing exhibition from tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine mid-tune. There's a lick in there that hits you like very few moments in music do, and you when hear it you'll know it. Turrentine's magic is all over this record, really, and his work plays nicely off Quebec's lower register style with a wholly Texan approach that works the upper registers of the horn wonderfully. It's a fire dyanmic, but the truth is every member shines and plays off eachother brilliantly throughout the album. There's no friction caused from trying to reinvent the wheel or blaze a new trail here. After all, this is easy living
music, and the title truly fits the mood without err. Clark's piano cruises around with steadfast poise, bringing flair when its warranted, like on the catchy back half of "Que's Pills", and serves as a lush accent otherwise, like during the lounging moments of rainy-day number "I've Got A Crush On You" made famous by legends like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Greene flexes his trombone tone like a boss on the first three tracks with some excellent solos, and while Blakey takes on a more standard role behind the kit than what many are used to from the man who spearheaded classics like The Big Beat
, his work is impeccably solid throughout. All the standards found on the album see great interpretations as well, with Bennie Greene's lamenting jaunt and Turrentine's "Que's Pills" rounding things out on the more energetic A-side with some fresh music that fits lock-and-key with the venerable renditions found on this pressing. Those with the CD and streaming re-issues also get to enjoy two more exciting bonus tracks - Ike's "I.Q. Shuffle" and Greene's "B.G.'s Groove Two".
When Sputnikmusic's own Robertsona spoke of Freddie Hubbard's classic Ready For Freddie
in saying, "greatness is the ease with which its constituent musicians slide in and out of spotlight. Hardly self-abnegating, these musicians nonetheless proceed from a concept of camaraderie as hand-in-hand with personal expression, so that each part adds up to a whole and is a whole in itself"
, he highlighted a special combination of forces that seperates legendary jazz albums from the rest, and with Easy Living
the camaraderie and personal expression are most definitely hand-in-hand. They play big and they play with heart no matter the mood - a fact you can hear on the Van Huesen classic "Nancy (With The Laughing Face)", and the closing title track, as the troop ebbs and flows around the spacious pacing of these affairs with the most delicate of touches to close out the album. The pairing solidifies a sharp contrast against the joie de vivre
of the album's bulk, as a denouement of introspection if you will, bringing us back down to earth with pockets full of soul.
Why it took until 1982, when most of the content found here was released under the Congo Lament
title, remains a question for most. Of all the Quebec albums, this is the one that showcases his panache best, with the front end hosting that catchy peak-hours energy we all crave, and the B-side playing to his penchant for sultry and romantic late-night meandering. Fortunately, these cool recordings eventually found the light of day, showcasing a perfected recipe brought to life by a sextet with unforgettable charisma. Had it been released two decades prior, perhaps Ike and his commendable body of work would be more widely recognized, especially with an exhibition like this to underscore his discography, but for what's it's worth, anyone who happens to stumble upon Quebec and his style is sure to be left with a lasting impression.