Classics Revisited: Oliver Nelson, 'the Blues and the Abstract Truth'

​​Through the years, I've had dozens of people ask me to recommend a few must-have jazz albums--kind of like a starter kit. I hit 'em with some classics--Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Giant Steps (A Love Supreme is a little advanced for newbies)--but I've also found myself repeatedly suggesting a masterpiece by a lesser known artist: saxophonist/composer/arranger Oliver Nelson's the Blues and the Abstract Truth

The 1961 recording, which remains widely available, features seven ace players performing a cool, highly melodic set of six Nelson originals, all gorgeously arranged for four horns and a rhythm section.

I defy anyone to resist the charms of the opener, "Stolen Moments," a medium-tempo, sauntering late-night blues with a hook that gloms onto your brain. Most of the songs are built around blues structures, but have a sophisticated, uptown feel. The soloists--notably legends Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute), Bill Evans (piano) and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet)--keep their statements succinct and engrossing.

Nelson, who played alto and tenor saxophone (he died in 1975 at the age of 43), was never regarded as a major improviser, but I find his robust but ethereal tone and penchant for long blue notes entirely seductive, a counterpoint to Dolphy's darting-and-swooping flights.


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