Sunday, January 8, 2017

Shades of Redd (Freddie Redd, 1960) | Liner notes by Nat Hentoff


Nat Hentoff Liner Notes for Freddie Redd’s Shades of Redd (1960) | Republished with Permission


Since his emergence as com­poser of the score for Jack Gelber's harrowingly exact play, The Connection (Blue Note 4027), Freddie Redd has finally been gaining some of the recognition that has eluded him for much of his playing career. Freddie also plays the taciturn pianist in the play with convincing effect. Although he hopes to work again in the theatre, Freddie remains essen­tially a jazz player-writer, and this album underlines his growth as a composer of vigorously expressive jazz originals.


Freddie has been writing since he started playing. In both disciplines, he is largely self-taught. Born in New York, May 29, 1928, Freddie came of a moderately musical family. His mother sang in church, and still does; and his father, who died when Freddie was not yet a year old, had played piano.

Unlike most professional jazzmen, Freddie didn't take up an instrument until quite late in his teens. Around 1946, when he was in the Army, Freddie began to pick up the piano on his own. After being discharged, he studied for a month at the Greenwich House Music School in New York, but he became so proficient through his own investigations that he left school to take his first professional job, a jazz gig in Syracuse. With him, by the way, was tenor saxophon­ist Tina Brooks. After Syracuse, he free­lanced in Harlem, especially in a sit-in room called Club Harlem where pay was small but the chance to learn before an audi­ence and other musicians was extensive. Meanwhile, he was absorbing a number of influ­ences. The first jazz record he recalls having had a sharp impact on him was the Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie Shaw 'Nuff to which he was exposed in the Army. Later, Freddie heard Bud Powell. "Bud really got me started. I'd never heard a pianist play quite like that — the remarkably fluent single lines and the pretty chords. In time, Thelonious Monk got to me, too. Actually, however, I've been influenced by many things I've heard on a lot of instru­ments. What I do is try to piece together what stimulates me into my own way of feeling things musically."

By 1953, Freddie had joined Cootie Williams and spent an exacerbating year traveling mostly through the South. Back in New York, Freddie started working with vibist Joe Roland and began to be heard quite often at Birdland’s informal Monday night sessions. In 1954, Freddie was with Art Blakey, and then for a time, he seemed to have disappeared. He turned up in Sweden on a tour with Rolf Ericson, joined Charlie Mingus's Jazz Workshop in 1956, and when Mingus went to the coast, Freddie left the band there. He was based in San Francisco for six months, and returned to New York where he did some recording, but was inactive on the club scene.

After several years of scuffling, the chance came to write the music for and appear in The Connection. Freddie has been at the Living Theatre on Sixth Avenue ever since. He doesn't find the long run dull since "something different happens every night,” but he would like to form his own group and go back into the clubs. He was particularly anxious to work out some of his ideas on how jazz writing and playing can be productively inter-related in this album, and the result, he feels, has given him more confidence than any experience since his scoring of The Connection. Freddie's long association with the play had led to his being dubbed "The Thespian" by Joe Termini, the owner of The Jazz Gallery and The Five Spot in New York, and Freddie chose the nickname for the title of the opening tune. On tenor is another thespian, Tina Brooks (whose own album, True Blue, is on Blue Note 4041). Brooks is Jackie McLean's understudy in The Connection. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he's been based in New York since he was thirteen. After apprenticeships in rhythm and blues bands, he worked with Lionel Hampton, Benny Harris, and several combos. Freddie notes that Tina "creates his lines not only with a lot of lyricism but with real depth." The third thespian, Jackie Mclean, indicated in The Connection that he could successfully explore an acting career were he not so committed to jazz. In any case, we have here a unique front line of actor-musicians. This sketch of a "Thespian” begins with a broodingly lyrical line which has a Monkish touch. It suddenly quickens in tempo and intensity. Mclean breaks out in a brisk gallop, followed by Tina. Like Jackie, Tina plays with that unmistakable "cry" that is the emotional insignia of the echt jazzman. Freddie Redd's style is energetic and assertive, and communicates an urgent authority. "Blues-Blues-Blues" is obviously titled because of its undiluted blues spirit. Tina’s tone, incidentally, is particularly penetrating and accordingly, it strikes with concentrated force. McLean is again a compelling soloist. His tone too demands attention because of the strength of emotion it contains. The line of "Blues-Blues-Blues" has an unforced traditional feeling although it ends, like much in contemporary life, in mid-air.

"Shadows” has a provocatively twilite mood which accounts for its title. The tune emphasizes Freddie’s predilection for tenderly introspective ballads. Both reedmen are aptly lyrical with Brooks building considerable tension throughout a solo that is well organized and quite deeply felt. Freddie manages to play with his usual force and yet convey the soft loneliness of the tune. Similarly, Paul Chambers has a beautifully shaded statement before the final ensemble and the slowly unwinding theme. "Melanie" is named after the newborn baby of a friend of the composer. “It sounded happy to me,” says Freddie, “and that’s why I thought it fitted a child." Moreover, it has the kind of bouncing beat and line that children, as I can attest from watching mine, like to move freely to in what they regard as dancing. Paul has a warm, rhythmically supple solo and the hornmen speak with unstrained ardor.
Freddie first thought of "Swift" in two, and when he changed it into four, he realized how really swift it was. At the session, when he beat off the tempo, the hornmen looked at him quizzically, but as it turned out, they met the non-stop challenge, and there is an air of triumph in the final ensemble strut. "Just a Ballad for My Baby” is an unabashedly romantic tribute to a young lady. All hands seem to understand the caressing ode. "Ole" is a composition with a tangy Spanish tinge. Note the steadily tasteful, resourceful drumming of Louis Hayes – formerly with Horace Silver and now with Cannonball Adderley – both here and throughout the album.

Shades of Redd, in summary, is part of the continuing self portrait Freddie Redd is developing as a jazz performer-writer. The colors are all of the jazz language, and the mixer has made them reflect his own unique view of life on and off the stand.


-- Nat Hentoff

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