Sunday, November 22, 2015
Listening to Prestige part 153: Bennie Green
This is an extension of the June session, minus Candido, and it appears, along with the June session on the album variously titled Bennie Green Blows His Horn and Bennie Green Blows His Horn in Hi-Fi.
It begins with the aptly titled "Groovin' the Blues," in which the band lays down a great groove, particularly the young Paul Chambers on bass, and Green and Charlie Rouse play the hell out of the blues. There are two different versions of this, one clocking in at 5:31 and the other at 3:13. Both of them appear on the album, and one was also released as a single, presumably the shorter one. The longer version seems to have been recorded first, so I'm guessing that it sounded so good that they decided it had to be a single, and they should cut it down to 45 RPM length. Good choice as far as I'm concerned, because I get to listen to both. Both versions are that R&B-to-bebop that I love, with the shorter leaving out a little of the extended beboppery, but still enough to be extremely pleasing.
"Travelin' Light" is the one standard, and the one ballad, in the set. It's a beautiful composition by Harry Akst, who was completely unfamiliar to me, but who began his career during World War I, writing a song with fellow doughboy Irving Berlin, and went on to write some great songs, including "Am I Blue?", "Dinah," and "Baby Face," as well as composing countless movie scores. "Travelin' Light," in 1937, was his last hit. He lived until 1973, and if I hadn't heard of him, my loss. He was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1973. Bennie Green does this lovely melody justice, and more.
Maybe Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker was right, "anyone can sing the blues." But maybe not. Bennie Green certainly makes it sound easy. But anyone who's really good can make it sound easy. As W. B. Yeats said, "A line may take us hours maybe / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." And so with Bennie Green. Just when you thought he could do everything, he turns around and makes you realize you were even more right than you knew. Green shows on "Hi-Yo Silver" that if he'd decided to drop the trombone and make a career as a rhythm and blues singer, he could have been one of the good ones.
"On the Track" is bebop, and everyone on it is good. Great work by Paul Chambers. by Cliff Smalls, by Osie Johnson, by Charlie Rouse. And by Bennie. And it works as rhythm and blues, too.
"Hi-Yo Silver" was the flip side of the short version of "Groovin' the Blues." All the tunes appeared on the album.