Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records Part 42: Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists

Well, this is a surprise. Not only someone I'd never heard of, but a musical style that I didn't know existed: British bebop. I had always thought that British jazz of this era and well beyond it was strictly neo-trad -- Johnny Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber. But here's a guy not only playing bebop, but playing Afro-Cuban -- and doing it well. I found out a lot about him from this obituary (he died in 1997), all of it impressive -- he was commissioned, in 1960, to write a series of pieces which were performed by a group of Ellingtonians, led by Harry Carney and Paul Gonsalves.

These two cuts showcase Graham as writer and arranger. I wish he'd showcased his own tenor playing a little more -- he sounds good. And one could wish the session had been engineered a little better. Still, another unexpected pleasure from Prestige's vaults. The two songs were released on 78 under both the Prestige and New Jazz labels, and on a 10-inch showcasing Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt along with Graham, and titled "Mambo Jazz."

You can find a nice selection of Graham on Spotify, including the two Prestige cuts. Neither tune is on YouTube, but here's a movie score by Graham from 1960, in which he out-Mancinis Mancini.

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