Meet Oliver Nelson
1. Jams And Jellies
2. Passion Flower
3. Don't Stand Up
5. What's New?
6. Booze Blues Baby
Oliver Nelson - Tenor sax
Kenny Dorham - Trumpet
Ray Bryant - Piano
Wendell Marshall - Bass
Art Taylor - Drums
7. Main Stem
Oliver Nelson - Alto sax, tenor sax
Joe Newman - Trumpet
Hank Jones - Piano
George Duvivier - Bass
Charlie Persip - Drums
Ray Barretto - Conga
Some time before there was Oliver Nelson the arranger and composer of the album The Blues And The Abstract Truth, there was Oliver Nelson the astute and creative tenor and alto saxophonist. This is the persona that is presented on Meet Oliver Nelson which was his initial album as a leader in 1959, and two years later with Main Stem a blowing session originally recorded for Prestige Records.
Originally from St. Louis Missouri, Nelson began his professional career in 1947 at the tender age of fifteen playing with "territory" bands in the area. After a period of military service, Nelson returned to his home town to study at university and then moved to New York where he worked for Erskine Hawkins, "Wild Bill" Davis, and was in the Quincy Jones band in 1960 and 1961.
For this debut release Meet Oliver Nelson, Nelson surrounded himself with top-flight talent including veteran trumpeter Kenny Dorham and pianist Ray Bryant among others. Nelson penned four of the tunes all of which showed some of the signature instrumental construction for which he gained his later reputation. Dorham was a bebop trumpeter of note whose long lines and elaborate triplets became a trademark. The lead track Jams And Jellies shows glimpses of these Dorham traits but they are more prominent on Ostinato.
Pianist Ray Bryant always plays with distinction and never lets a soloist down with his supportive backgrounds. His own solos have a blues feel punctuated with a strong left-hand and fluid harmonic right hand. All this is evident on Don't Stand Up, but Booze Blues Baby oozes with typical Bryant mannerisms.
Throughout the session, Nelson demonstrates that he is an appealing tenor saxophonist with a full tone and agile technique. While he swings in a straight-forward fashion on the up-tempo numbers, on Passion Flower he plays with an admiration for Ellington's composition and on What's New? he demonstrates a pure fondness for the tune.
When Main Stem was released in the late summer of 1961, The Blues And The Abstract Truth had been on the market since February of that year and life for Oliver Nelson moved to a different trajectory. With almost universal acclaim for this album and its signature piece Stolen Moments, Nelson began his transition from small-group musician to big-band composer/arranger, and Main Stem was the beginning of the small-group final chapter.
Prestige Records was one of those labels that was open to musicians who were looking for freedom to play what and how they liked. Thus this session was a free-flowing affair, not only with the front line, but also with a rhythm section that had Ray Barretto on conga on all tracks. At the time of this recording, trumpeter Joe Newman was just completing a twelve-year stint with the Count Basie band. Newman was a well-tested and accessible trumpeter in the Louis Armstrong tradition. On the title track Main Stem, Newman rips off a stunning solo and again on Latino his big open sound takes flight in all its assertiveness.
Pianist Hank Jones is always Mr. Taste playing the right note or chord at the right time, and is always a harmonically knowledgeable player. His opening on the blues-based J&B is note perfect, and on Ho! he delivers a succinct opening chorus and then several bars later comes back-in with a dazzling short break.
The Oliver Nelson that is featured in this session on both tenor and alto saxophone is a player of intense passion who cherishes the space to stretch out and have the playing time to fully express his musical ideas: whether offering a series of measured approaches as he builds his solo on Main Stem, to the jumpier lines on Tipsy, and the single-take flowing runs on Tangerine with its Latin flavour.
This wonderful re-issue on Fresh Sound Records brings home the fact that Oliver Nelson was a deftly imaginative and engaging horn player, who regrettably later on in his career, had little time to continue to further his craft.