Reference: FSRCD 853
Bar code: 8427328608534
[This reissue replaces the previous edition as FSRCD 437]
In the summer of 1956 James Clay was a 20-year-old tenor saxophonist from Dallas, who had been living and playing in Los Angeles since mid-1955. At that time his colleagues were all young and independent experimentalists, completely outside of the flourishing West Coast jazz movementplayers like trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Billy Higgins, and altoist Ornette Colemanand though he said he was not an outside player, he worked easily within the unconventional settings of Colemans compositions. Paradoxically, however, his only recordings were straight ahead, not at all in line with Ornettes controversial music. On them his ideas flow melodically, especially in ballads and mid-tempos. On faster tunes, his blowing statements come from the strong swinging style and hot tone that characterized other Texas tenors such as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb, with a hard-bop approach clearly influenced by his idol Sonny Rollins.
This CD contains all James Clay studio performances on tenor sax while the young kid from Dallas was living in Los Angeles in the mid Fifties.
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"Although recorded on the West coast, this disc is not like the usual California jazz sounds, i.e. refined, smooth and sweet. Clay was a hard bop tenorman who came from Texas and was discovered by drummer Marable, who was looking for a sax man who was out of the ordinary, rough and unpolished but not afraid to blow hard without restraints.
He certainly found him in Clay who has that stamp of authority, unique sound and ability to swing easily that all the great soloists have. Clay was a warm and inventive ballad player too, witness this sinuous version of Easy Living. With the impeccable, sophisticated jazz piano of Sonny Clark added in as second solo voice and a strong rhythm section, this session - the (2) tracks - could hardly fail. They were issued as an LP under Marables leadership on the short-lived Jazz West label that quickly became a collectors item. Standards and very serviceable bop lines by Sonny Clark made up an ideal programme of music.
Added to this sterling album is an equally good half of a Contemporary LP, with first-class sound, issued under bassist Mitchells name and a track recorded for the TV programme Stars Of Jazz. Lorraine Geller shines on piano and Mitchell is a tower of strength on bass. By all accounts, Clay was a good free-jazz soloist too, who linked up frequently with Ornette Coleman. But, on record, he always chose to play straightahead bop. Nowt wrong with that, folks!"
-Derek Ansell (April, 2015)
"Here is one of the reasons that labels that specialize in reissues do us such a great service. I have NEVER even heard of this guy James Clay, and who knows what happened to him or where he went, but this disc is a swinging delight. In the mid-50s he came onto the West Coast jazz scene, but not from the cool school, but from the fledging free movement with Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins and Don Cherry. His only recordings under his own name are essentially here, and he keeps it mainstream with a hard hitting group of rhythm mates that include Bobby Timmons-Sonny Clark-Lorraine Geller/p, Red Mitchell-Jimmy Bond/b and Billy Higgins-Frank Capp-Lawrence Marable-Peter Littman/dr.
Clay has a rich hue to his horn that veers between Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon. He can really milk a note on ballads such as In A Sentimental Mood, Willow Weep For Me and Lover Man, and can sizzle like a T-Bone steak on the sinister Its Alright With Me and Scrapple From The Apple. Mid tempo jaunts like The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are a delight the V8 engine of a quartet varooms on Cheek to Cheek. By the time this is over, youre going to want more of this guy, but this is it. Savor and chew slowly."
-George W. Harris (April 27, 2015)