The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Nelson, Oliver

Some of the Most Vivid Imagery in All of Jazz

Oliver Nelson started out as a jazz saxophonist in the 1950s and grew into a formidable composer-arranger with his own distinctive sound. By 1967 he developed an entirely different career, writing music for film and TV. His vibrant scores—which include Death of a Gunfighter, It Takes a Thief, Ironside, and The Six Million Dollar Man—are filled with attitude, cop-show chases, and splashes of dizzying brass drawn from his jazz experience.

The Hollywood stuff is accomplished and exciting, but this album, Nelson's zenith, is a landmark of jazz orchestration. When he recorded it in 1961, he was already thinking in terms of drama; the arrangement on this set has some of the most vivid imagery in all of jazz. His "Hoedown" takes place at a country fair, where square-dance reels collide with amen cadences from the revival tent. The scurrying "Cascades," the most cerebral of Nelson's originals, plays like a ramble through a thick forest.

And then there is "Stolen Moments," nine minutes of noir jazz bliss that sounds like it was beamed from a wood-paneled lounge in the Los Angeles of James Ellroy novels. Nelson has the horns doing a swaying counterpoint to his primary theme, played by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. They're like a miniature big band, but the music feels as wide open as the Miles Davis small groups. The soloists bring a restless, questioning quality to the tableau; every chord change is another invitation into a hipster underworld. One after another, the soloists clear a space at the bar for you, set down a generous highball, and say: Go ahead. Steal a minute. No one will know.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1961, Impulse
Key Tracks: "Stolen Moments," "Teenie's Blues," "Cascades."
Catalog Choice: Afro-American Sketches
Next Stop: Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery: The Dynamic Duo
After That: Dave Douglas: Strange Liberation
Book Page: 543

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