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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