Larry Young

June 11, 2016

In Paris: the ORTF Recordings
Resonance Records HSC 2022

Known for introducing modal concepts to Jazz organ playing plus pioneering percussive Fusion procedures on discs by Tony Williams and others, Larry Young’s death in 1978 before he turned 38, left unanswered is the question of how his music would have evolved. Perhaps he would have created new dual keyboard concepts à la Sun Ra or retreated into rote Pop-Soul like George Duke. These 10 newly discovered tracks from 1964-1965, broadcast once on French radio during the organist’s several month Paris stay, suggests that today he could be working alongside soul survivors like Dr. Lonnie Smith. Certainly his mastery of that unique concoction of Free Bop and Soul Blues was already evident here.

Like lenses inserted into a phoropter during an eye exam which offer diverse views, Young’s playing is highlighted in three settings on the disc. The Nathan Davis group, led by the now Pittsburg-based, long-time Paris resident saxophonist was a working band that included Young, trumpeter Woody Shaw and drummer Billy Brooks is featured on four tracks. Jazz aux Champs-Élysées All Stars, on three others adds five additional players and matches the Swing-Bop piano of French producer/leader Jack Diéval to Young’s organ. The three remaining tracks are trio showcases; two with Young’s organ backed by French drummer Franco Manzecchi and Guadeloupian percussionist Jacky Bamboo; and “Larry’s Blues” on which Manzecchi and bassist Jacques B. Hess back up the organist’s surprisingly Monk-inflected piano musings.

“Mean to Me” and Young’s original “Luny Tune”, the other trio tracks are pleasant, but more like discarded first-draft manuscript pages than essential additions to a volume. The first is taken a bit outside, but remains more like background music; the latter which Young recorded with guitarist Grant Green, flaunts dual-keyboard tremolo pulsing, but lacks the personality of the guitar lead. More compelling are the Jazz aux Champs-Élysées tracks. Young’s only other large group recordings were at the end of his life, when other labels were emulating CTI-like fabrications adding vocals, massed percussion, guitars and keyboards to what started as simple funk. The tracks here are more in a Swing to Cool Jazz variant. Brighter and lighter than the Davis quartet’s Hard Bop, Diéval’s arrangement called for a lot of call-and-response, with a mellowness that at various times suggests “Night Train” morphing into “Night in Tunisia”. Throughout Young’s tremolo smears and duple pumps mostly riff behind Diéval’s sometime clanking keyboard. Since one tenor saxophonist solos with the lightness of Stan Getz and the wide-tone of Coleman Hawkins on slower numbers, it’s likely Jean-Claude Fohrenbach. Meanwhile Davis’ Trane-influenced double-tonguing is distinctively modern in this context, but almost out of place, like an iPod in collection of hi-fi equipment. In the same way Shaw, who was only 19 at the time – Young was 24 – falls into the habit of trying to match with sheer upward tilting brass cries the Dizzy Gillespie-influenced style of Jamaican trumpeter Sonny Grey. Still the tracks are never less than swinging, albeit in a mainstream Continental manner. Additionally, “Talkin’ About JC”, a Young original he recorded with Green on the same date as “Luny Tune”, is given a large group augmentation the proves its adaptability.

Considering that the Davis quartet worked in a Paris club every night for many months, it’s these tracks are the most skillfully organized and the most crucial find(s). Allowed to stretch out – in the case of Shaw’s “Zoltan”, a tough “Blue March”-like variant, to almost 21 minutes – each player has time to develop his ideas. A skilful journeyman, who played with many top Jazzers in Europe later on, Brooks was from Newark – as were Young and Shaw – and was a model Hard Bop percussionist at the time. Throughout his beat never falters and if he gets carried away when trading licks with the other players, especially on a track like “Zoltan”, gluing his time sense to Young’s pumping explosions often adds an extra stratum of ebullience to the proceedings. Shaw was much more in the thrall of trumpeters like Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan at the time. His reach doesn’t exceed his grasp, but like most apprentice musicians he’s rarely mellow, more often in the upper register. Still his playing and composing is mature enough to create a notable exposition and nurture it to a logical ending.

Notably, although the spirit of John Coltrane – and his acolyte Wayne Shorter, whose composition “Black Nile” is played for almost 14 minutes – hovers over the quartet, Davis never outputs overt Trane-ism. If anything his command of detail and rugged snorts, snarls and thickened vibrato are reminiscent of Booker Ervin, who Young had recorded with the year previously. As for Young he’s perfectly in his element on the quartet tunes, comping when called for, pushing when additional torque is needed, and trading licks with everyone, His particular strength as a soloist is isolated on “Black Nile”, when with piano-like grace he constructs a solo that vibrates and moves, but never holds any note past its best-before date.

With its glimpse of the mid-1960s Paris Jazz scene; its additions to the recorded catalogues of Shaw, Brooks and Davis, plus the available of prime pre-Fusion Young; In Paris: the ORTF Recordings will make many Hard Bop and Soul Jazz fans happy. It’s good music no matter the label.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc One: 1. Trane of Thought& 2. Talkin’ About JC+~ $3. Mean To Me*$ 4. La Valse Grise+~$ 5. Discothèque+~$ Disc Two: 1. Luny Tune*$ 2. Beyond All Limits% 3. Black Nile% 4. Zoltan% 5. Larry’s Blues*^#;$

Personnel: Woody Shaw (trumpet [except*); Sonny Grey (trumpet)+; Nathan Davis (tenor saxophone except*); Jean-Claude Fohrenbach (tenor saxophone)+; Jack Diéval (piano)+; Larry Young (organ or piano^); Jacques B. Hess (bass)#; Billy Brooks% or Franco Manzecchi$ (drums); Jacky Bamboo (percussion)$