Monday, 1 February 2010

Paul Jeffrey - Watershed


256+ VBR mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from MRL 390

Paul Henley Jeffrey is one of post-war jazz's brighter flames, a light who remains burning and is widely regarded as a prime participant in passing the torch to younger generations. Although
he's better known for his stint as professor of Jazz Studies at Rutgers starting in 1977 then as Artist in Residence and Director of the Jazz Program at Duke University for 20 years until 2003, according to his entry in Feather & Gitler's Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz he also taught at Columbia University, Jersey State College and the University of Hartford in addition to hosting a show devoted to jazz on NYC's WFUV radio station during the 70s. As you see, the man was serious about bringing youth into the fold for 50-odd years and is still at it, continuing to tour and record at the age of 76.

By all accounts, even before he'd graduated from the music program at Ithaca College in '58, he was already another young buck with a sax for an axe working the late 50s R&B circuit as sideman with acts like Big Maybelle, Illinois Jacquet and BB King until settling in NYC in 1961. This move ultimately led to him blowing on the bandstands of D
izzy and Basie by the end of the decade. Although originally pegged as somewhat of another Bird disciple, a friendship with another saxophone colossus, Sonny Rollins, would open him up to further developing his own sound and soon he would find himself in the thick of it with Thelonious Monk and blowing for our man Mingus through the better part of the 70s.
1968 Sonny Rollins CBC Documentary -- 1968 with Dizzy "Things to Come"

Double click vids for full screen

Paul Jeffrey with Thelonious Monk Quartet

According to Jack Wilkins, although released in 1973 and bearing a copyright notice for 1972, Watershed was actually recorded in 1971 while PJ was a participating member of Monk's band (he would be the last sax player to work in his Quartet before it folded around '74). This rings true, not just because Jack is a stand-up guy who - like his guitar - don't lie, but also because Monk Jr. was a member of his dad's group around this period and he hits the skins for PJ on this hard-driving traditional bop session.

Jack's smoking performance on the album (he almost steals the show) prompted Shad to invite him to record his own LP, Windows, so chances are this watershed moment in Wilkins' life is pretty much indelibly etched in his memory. As Jack says:

"If it wasn't for my dear friend Paul, I never would have recorded that album. I had recorded his record called "Watershed" from a year earlier. After that the producer, Bob Shad, asked me to record my own record."
Getting inked for your first album is not exactly a forgettable event in one's life and an instant that most folk would remember down to the most minute detail. It obviously impressed Wilkins and in times such as those the psyche soaks up a lot of detail that can be consciously recalled later on. Considering Bobby's notoriously naff notation of details, I'll take Jack's recollection to be the more accurate retelling of events.

Paul visits Jack during the recording of Windows.

The traditional nature of this session was probably the main reason Shad shelved it for a couple years, seeing as his mission statement for the label was to highlight the new electronic sounds and focus on the now! sound of the times. Always on the cutting-edge of technological advances and with his finger forever on the pulse of the public, his philosophy was summed up in the April 29, 1970 issue of Billboard thusly:
Shad feels many of the younger players came out of the acid rock mould and brought into their jazz playing electronic accessories like echoplexes and echo delays. Shad's newest move to expand his jazz coverage is to develop a combination sound built on jazz, rock and blues.
When you contrast that statement with the following quote from the man himself printed a few months earlier in the June 19, 1971 issue under the headline Mainstream Shifts to Improvisational LP's, it becomes clear Jeffrey's straight-ahead session was likely much less "hip" (read "fusion") than Shad had bargained for:
"As an analogy, the word jazz is an old term. When people hear that word, nine times out of 10 they cringe. It almost connotes death. Personally, I would like to find a new term to use. A term that fits the time as well as the music."
Well, there's no dodging the term on this album. It's Jazz with a capital "J" followed by a squiggly exclamation mark with little jazzhands coming out the sides. That should come as no surprise since Jeffrey was a serious student, and soon to be professor, of jazz. His deep understanding of the form paired with sensibilities that were both intense (yet not brooding) and buoyant (but not bouncy) had already provided challenging compositions on his premiere release while his knack for writing open charts and keeping them tight had garnered him a degree of respect in musician circles.

Compound his challenging sound with its very nature as a traditional throwback played in a mainly acoustic setting and it's fairly easy to see why this piece would linger in Shad's library until MRL was sputtering its last breaths and he was desperately raiding his catalogue for "new" product to put on the shelves. As a result, the first of the three sessions PJ led for Mainstream was the second to be released, sandwiched between Family and Paul Jeffrey. The fact shameless hustler and savvy promoter Shad rarely mentioned or advertised Jeffrey's albums in print to the extent he did other members of his roster is partly responsible for their obscurity, and for him this one seemed an afterthought.

Ironically, a few years earlier PJ had recorded an album for Savoy (one of Shad's old stomping grounds as an A&R man) called Electrifying Sounds of The Paul Jeffrey Quintet, that was somewhat kinda more aligned to the Mainstream mission. On that debut, besides posing for what could well be the best ironic indie-hipster disco-synth-punk album cover ever, PJ does an Eddie Harris and runs his horn through a Gibson Maestro "not for amp, but for widening pitch range and producing an octave unison line on the single instrument" as the liner notes explain.

Speaking of liner notes, Bob Porter's essay for this release is pretty much spot-on, so rather than needlessly extend this post by reinventing his wheel with a play-by-play, click on the gatefold image at the top of the post or read it at your leisure once you've downloaded the file. This one will definitely please fans of Dizzy, Parker and bebop in general, and will prove entertaining for Wilkins afficianados since this is the first time he stepped into the studio to be waxed for posterity.
Paul Jeffrey - Sax
Thelonious Monk, Jr. - Drums
Richard Davis - Acoustic bass
Jack Wilkins - Electric Guitar

1 Minor Scene
2 Brand New Day
3 Love Letters
4 Moon Madness
5 Brand X
6 My Son
7 Geometric Blues
8 Serenity

Discography as leader

Electrifying Sounds Of The Paul Jeffrey Quintet [Savoy MG 12192] at Fat Toro

1971 Watershed
[Mainstream MRL-390] at Soundological

1972 Family
[Mainstream MRL-376] at Arkadin's Ark

1974 Paul Jeffrey
[Mainstream MRL-406] at the shad shack

1994 Tribute To Trane
[Duke University Jazz DUJ 94]
1996 Together In Monaco w/ Curtis Fuller
[Amosaya AM 2531]

2009 We See
[Imago] at israbox

Paul Jeffrey links:
MySpace page
Wiki entry
Imago page
Jazz Discography leader page

Experience your own watershed moment with Paul Jeffrey and Soundological HERE.


Jazzjet said...

Another great post. Many thanks.

E-mile said...

holy mackerel, Cheeba, great find!
The Shack is getting shad'd with this watershed....
Elusive writing as ever, thank you.
peace, E-mile

Oracle said...

Welcome back Cheeba. Glad to see you didn't take a powder. Thanks for these last two posts.

Got some goodies lined up myself at the Portal and I am sure you will be interested in the next few posts.

Layed off, again. Second time in less than a year. So while I will have plenty of time on my hands I don't think much of it will be ripping vinyl. But gotta have some fun so check in now and again.


cheeba said...

@Jazzjet, many welcomes! Thanks for the encouragement!

@E-mile, always appreciate your feedback! Since you were the "spark" that got me to start the shad shack, you'll be happy to know that it will be almost complete by Shad's birthday on the 12th! Also, bad on me for not visiting you in a while!

@Oracle, you're welcome! Sorry to hear about your status - seems to be a lot of it going around. At least you can have a little bit of funemployment in the short term. Look forward to catching up over there....just noticed you posted an Urbie Green that's been in my "to do" pile for over a year! Have I mentioned recently what good taste you have? :)

boogieman said...

Hi Cheeba,

great album. Thanks.

Arkadin said...

Agree with you on "Jack's smoking, show stealing performance which lifts it above the average hardbop album imo. Listening to it after the Turba it almost sounded balsamous ;)
Still think the one I posted is his most ambitious work - no shameless self promo intended.
Great write-up as always - your thumb seems to be in top form!
Best to you!

cheeba said...

@boogieman, glad you're enjoying this one and appreciate the comment.

@Arkadin, "balsamous" is a fine adjective - I might have to employ it sometime! While we're agreeing, I agree with you that PJ's Family - available at your fine blog of course - is probably the best of the three MRL sessions.

Although composition-wise it's very similar to this one, he expanded the size of his roster and since he's known for giving his team a lot of room to stretch out, it was a more freewheeling and soulful set to my ears. The third is definitely the funkiest and most electric of the bunch as if made-to-order for Bobby but for the most part it feels like all light and no heat in the execution.

Thanks for your kindness, your wishes and - since we're fast approaching completion over at the shad shack - your help in tracking down a lot of these lions. By my count you coughed up almost a fifth of 'em!

cheeba said...

BTW, just a quick mention that Mike Longo is on keys in that Dizzy vid...