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Sonny Clark

Four Classic Albums

AVID AMSC 1250 [76:43 + 79:24]



Sonny Clark – Four Classic Albums


1-6: ‘Dial “S” For Sonny’

1. Dial “S” For Sonny

2. Bootin’ It

3. It Could Happen To You

4. Sonny’s Mood

5. Shoutin’ On A Riff

6. Love Walked In

7-12: ‘Sonny Clark Trio’

7. Be-Bop

8. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was

9. Two Bass Hit

10. Tadd’s Delight

11. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

12. I’ll Remember April


1-4: ‘Cool Struttin’’

1. Cool Struttin’

2. Blue Minor

3. Sippin’ At Bells

4. Deep Night

5-10: ‘Leapin’ and Lopin’’

5. Something Special

6. Deep In A Dream

7. Melody For C

8. Eric Walks

9. Voodoo

10. Midnight Mambo

‘Dial “S” For Sonny’ Art Farmer (trumpet): Curtis Fuller (trombone): Hank Mobley (tenor sax): Sonny Clark (piano): Wilbur Ware (bass): Louis Hayes (drums) recorded July 1957

‘Sonny Clark Trio’ Sonny Clark (piano): Paul Chambers (bass): Philly Joe Jones (drums) recorded October 1957

‘Cool Struttin’’ Art Farmer (trumpet): Jackie McLean (alto sax): Sonny Clark (piano): Paul Chambers (bass): Philly Joe Jones (drums) recorded January 1958

‘Leapin’ and Lopin’’ Tommy Turrentine (trumpet): Charlie Rouse (tenor sax) and Ike Quebec (tenor sax: Deep in a Dream only): Sonny Clark (piano): Butch Warren (bass): Billy Higgins (drums) recorded November 1961


Pianist Sonny Clark’s recordings for Rudy Van Gelder in the years between 1957 and 1961 are all the more precious given his sadly truncated life. Dead at 31, he did at least live enough to record with some top-of-the range exponents, as a look at the personnel listings show.

Dial ‘S’ for Sonny is a six-track LP, four compositions by Clark, where he’s joined by Art Farmer, Hank Mobley and Curtis Fuller in the front line, and Wilbur Ware and Louis Hayes in the engine room. This booting often mid-tempo Blue Note session is saturated in articulate blues licks, the leader playing with effortlessly fluent crispness and trading well with the front line and Hayes. Nothing is too ‘out’. On a standard like It Could Happen To You, Fuller can stretch out, full toned and taut, whilst on a piece such as Shoutin’ on a Riff the sheer athleticism and precision of the playing is splendid. Only on Gershwin’s Love Walked In does one feel Clark noodling around; an opportunity missed.

About three months later Clark returned to the Van Gelder studios with just rhythm – Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones – for another six-track album of which, this time, none were Clark originals. This fleet and fluent set shows the trio’s great strengths; a splendid arco solo from Chambers on Dizzy Gillespie’s Be-Bop, a mid-tempo and decidedly unmaudlin I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, Jones in coruscatingly brilliant form on the bop anthem Two Bass Hit (the other Gillespie piece) and the bluesy tempo-doubling on Softly As In A Morning Sunrise. The only demerit comes in the rather rococo and over-decorative Clark styling on I’ll Remember April.

Cool Struttin’ from the following year welcomes Jackie McLean and Farmer to join Chambers and Jones. It’s in this album that Clark’s influences and antecedents are most marked; Tristano, some Shearing and even Milt Buckner. But he had absorbed these elements into stylish fluid playing not without wit. The ensemble in this set is tight, McLean’s acerbic and terse blues playing impressive and Clark comps strongly on his own composition Blue Minor. The four tracks remain significant examples of this group’s empathetic control. The last of the four LPs is Leapin’ and Lopin’ with its different personnel. This is a hard-swinging bop session but perhaps the standout track is the slow ballad Deep in a Dream where Ike Quebec – in his only appearance – masterfully unveils a slow rapt solo and Butch Warren’s held bass note provides rich support. Clark’s Voodoo also hits the spot: great tune, great playing. Tommy Turrentine and Charlie Rouse turn in good solos when called for.

As I’ve remarked before, Avid’s presentation has improved enormously with personnel details at the front of the booklet and a miniature sleeve note reproduced on successive pages. No commissioning of new notes necessary, therefore.

On my review copy there were some strange clicks throughout Dial ‘S’ for Sonny. I assume these were imported during the remastering and they are decidedly annoying. I can only hope mine was an isolated example.

Jonathan Woolf


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