Bar code: 8427328611114
Back in the 50’s, John La Porta was the rare bird among the alto saxophonists. He played like no one else, and these 1956 recordings are a poignant signature of his stimulating profile. La Porta’s sound and phrasing were extremely distinct. His playing was emotionally striking, with a hard, plunging attack that underlines the solidity of his style, spiced with an occasional nod to Charlie Parker but without being overwhelmingly influenced by Bird.
La Porta builds up intriguing solos, cohesive and well-shaped from individual ideas, as is evidenced in charging, up-tempo performances like Budo and Volcano. He also stands out in the introspectively impressive Yesterdays, which is almost entirely his showcase. The other horn on Jazz Message is trumpeter Donald Byrd. He is in flowing form, playing with a feeling for wholeness in his choruses, as he demonstrates in Volcano and La Porta—Thority.
In the rhythm section, Kenny Clarke’s vital presence is constantly felt. His ever swinging drumming, together with the dependable and melodic voice of Wendell Marshall on bass, goes along effortlessly and effectively, pursuing the feeling and the changes of the tunes. They both take creative advantage of their solo space on Message and Volcano. Pianists Horace Silver and Ronnie Ball, either merging with the rhythm section or in their solos, contribute greatly to the success of these performances. In Budo and Message, Horace swings with his roaring depth of pulsation, and in I Married an Angel, he also shows how smooth and deep he can be when playing a ballad.
Throughout the second date, Ronnie is shown as a subtle and imaginative pianist, with a constant and throbbing interest in ideas —I Hear a Rhapsody and Play, Fiddle, Play are both good examples. The entire album is an excellent endeavor thanks to the cohesive work of the musicians involved in the collective quintet.
"There are very few recordings by saxophonist and clarinettist John La Porta. He operated in the late 1940s and early 50s, playing with the Woody Herman band, studying under Lennie Tristano and becoming known for his inventive work with Charles Mingus and the Jazz Composers Workshop.
The recordings here are from the album The Jazz Message (Savoy MG12064) which also had tracks by Hank Mobley, and Klook’s Clique (Savoy MG12065), which was released under Kenny Clarke’s name. The drummer, with his characteristic snare and hi-hat approach, and accomplished bassist Wendell Marshall provide first-rate support, augmented by Horace Silver, who had just started making a name for himself recording for Blue Note, and the British pianist Ronnie Ball, who had moved to New York in 1952.
The 23-year-old Donald Byrd is on trumpet, having just replaced the late Clifford Brown in Blakey’s Messengers. Byrd was fast becoming a feature for many of the hard-bop outfits emerging at the time and here varies between clear-toned open blowing, typified on I Married An Angel, and tight use of mute (I Hear A Rhapsody).
Like other altoists at the time, La Porta was influenced by Charlie Parker, but not unduly so. His distinct sound can be heard to good effect on Clarke’s Volcano (which bears a startling resemblance to Monk’s Epistrophy), La Porta-Thority and Budo. He plays with a harder edge than many associated with the Tristano school, although he was more than capable of a lighter, more restrained tone. The ballads demonstrate this, as does his haunting contribution on Yesterdays, which is played as a quartet. Ball’s piano work is particularly impressive, showing how he had settled into the bebop idiom, especially on Play Fiddle Play, Will Wail and on the ballads.
The nicely constructed Jazz Message has each instrument being introduced – brushes, walking bass, Silver’s single note runs, La Porta’s mellow, slightly quirky alto and Byrd’s muted trumpet. The track ends with phased departures, giving a satisfying symmetry.
La Porta changed direction soon after, pursuing a career in teaching (including Berklee); education’s gain was our loss, but our thanks are due to Jordi Pujol for another highly enjoyable release."
—Matthew Wright (February 11, 2022)
"One of the more unique sounding musicians in jazz was John La Porta (1920-2004). Originally a clarinetist (and friend of Buddy DeFranco), he studied with Lennie Tristano and created a signature sound on the alto sax, a foundation of Charlie Parker, but with a strong mix of classical-cum Jackie McLean. This album spotlight the fingerprint signature of a jazz artist in a rich and creative setting.
This 1956 Message session has him in the hard bopping company of Horace Silver-Ronnie Ball/p, Wendell Marshall/b Kenny Clarke/dr and Donald Byrd/tp for a snapping take of the bop classic “Budo” as well as the lyrical and bel canto “I Married An Angel” and “I Hear A Rhapsody”. His tone gets dark and long shadowed on a foreboding read of “Yesterdays” while the whole team stretches out for “The Jazz Message”. This is a keeper!
The liner notes give some light to La Porta’s brief modern jazz career, making this a great “what if”. Had he kept on this path, where would he, and jazz, have gone? Fascinating rhythms."
—George W. Harris (January 24, 2022)