The late tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan always had an original sound even if his style was not innovative in itself. An expert improviser capable of playing both inside and outside, Jordan’s authoritative tone was able to hold its own next to Eric Dolphy in the fiery sextet that Charles Mingus had in 1964 — no easy feat. Live at Ethell’s is one of Clifford Jordan’s finest recordings. On this quartet set from 1987 (with pianist Kevin O’Connell, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Vernel Fournier), Jordan is in top form, taking lengthy improvisations on diverse material ranging from "`Round Midnight" and a happy version of "Don’t Get Around Much Anymore" to three of his own originals and Benny Carter’s "Summer Serenade". Jordan, who does not waste a note on this CD, surprised both the audience and the engineer by taking a credible vocal on Lush Life, the only time in his career that he sang on a record. But the focus throughout is on his distinctive tenor, and Clifford Jordan, who is both relaxed and driving on this set, is in prime form. -Scott Yanow
Fred Kaplan told me this was among the best sounding jazz CDs he’d ever heard and I concur. Producer/engineer Sprey uses minimum miking and short runs of high quality cables, no filtering, compression, equalization, noise reduction, multitracking, or overdubbing, and he records in analogue at 15 ips. The digital catastrophe-er conversion is saved for the final step, and then done by Bob Katz on his custom D/A converter † this 1987 recording was digitized in 1990 at a 5645K sampling rate.
The results are predictably fine. It is as harmonically rich, colorful, and honest sounding as you’d expect, with a natural view of the quartet: Kevin O’Connell’s piano stage front right, Vernel Fournier’s drum kit back stage left, Ed Howard’s bass right of stage center, and Jordan’s succulent tenor sax, surrounded by plenty of air center stage. Everything is in proper perspective and sized just right. The club’s atmosphere is discernable, but not with the palpable presence of the best Sixties vinyl LPs like Bill Evan’s Village Vanguard sessions for Riverside, which could well have been Sprey’s acoustic model.
As with Bob Cummins’s India Navigation transfer of his exceptional Clarinet Summit recording, the last bit of air, transparency, and three-dimensional liquidity is missing, but here, unfortunately, there is no pure analogue release to compare it with. Someone should arrange to press one.
The sound on this CD is superior, in my opinion, to any of Bob Katz’s all digital, single point mike recordings for Chesky, both spatially and harmonically. I don’t think either the Chesky brothers or Katz would dispute the superior musicality (a valid word in my opinion) or resolution of the analogue medium. If Chesky’s aim was the best sound possible, they’d be recording their CDs in analogue. And they’d go from single point mike to minimum miking as Sprey records because it provides a closer version of what the ear might hear than the single mike which tends to be too damn literal. The last thing I want to be reminded of when listening to a recording of a quartet playing in a cavernous recording studio is that. Recording is an art after all, not an ideology or a pure science.
Sprey has it down just right on this release, as does the Jordan Quartet which turns in an ultra relaxed, yet substantial set of standards like "Lush Life" (which Jordan spontaneously sings into the sax mike), a hypnotic rendition of Benny Carter’s "Summer Serenade", and a sultry take on Thelonius Monk’s "`Round Midnight", as well as melodic, swinging originals. A natural sounding demo quality CD that I hope turns up in many rooms at the next CES.
Baltimore made the late Clifford Jordan feel at home. His wife was from there; they got married on stage there, and his mulled, lyrical, swinging, in-the-pocket jazz is just what local listeners revere. In Live at Ethell’s (Mapleshade, Four Stars) in 1987, the great tenor saxophonist sounds plenty relaxed. So much so, the first half drags a bit — Jordan is moved to croon (!) "Lush Life" — before he fully unfurls that beautiful sound: a tight fast vibrato combined with a curiously transparent but pleasing tone and very burly bluesy ideas. Jordan was a hot young tenor once himself, 40 years ago; here you hear power and confidence built up over decades, the incomparable sound of a seasoned tenor holding forth. (His quotes are deep; check out his blues, with its knowing nods to Parker’s "Mood and Misterioso"). It’s an honest slice of a major saxophonist. -Kevin Whitehead
REVIEW by HiFi+
This is the first Mapleshade release that's come my way, and what a treat it is. There's an unforced musicality to this recording that, more perfectly than most, captures the feeling of a live performance. I guess, to be strictly correct, I should say 'live performances' since the album was recorded over three nights in Baltimore in '87. The album runs through a number of standards, and includes Jordan's surprise vocal recording debut, when to the dismay of the engineer and the delight of the audience, he picks up the sax mike to sing "Lush Life". I'm delighted this was included since it simply adds to the spontaneity and 'you are there' effect of the very natural, spacious recording. The band are tight as a wild fowls sphincter and every nuance of their playing, from whispery quiet passages to straight ahead blowing is nicely captured. So too are spontaneous shouts of encouragement from the audience which on at least one occasion made me look around to see who'd joined me in the listening room. With the exception of one or two slightly over-extended drum solos (i.e. over 10 seconds!), this is a beautifully played very nicely recorded album, and deserves a place in any true jazz lovers collection. -Dennis Davis