CD Review:
Cannonball Adderley featuring Bill Evans:
"Know What I Mean"

Cannonball Adderley - alto sax
Bill Evans - piano
Percy Heath - bass
Connie Kay - drums

Recorded 1961, NYC


This relaxing and thoroughly unforgettable 1961 album brings together the high-spirited Cannonball Adderley and pianist Bill Evans, who had both worked with Miles Davis just two years earlier, along with the Modern Jazz Quartet rhythm section of Percy Heath and Connie Kay. The juxtaposition of these two jazz giants and their contrasting styles, seems to have brought out some of the best playing from both of them. Evans is heavily featured in intros and outros, as well as with his reprertoire staples "Elsa" and his well-known "Waltz For Debby". His playing here is enthralling, exuberant and melodic, being spurred on by Cannon's warmth, and his bouncy improvised melodies on the more up tunes, aided by and the cozy charm and accompaniment of Heath and Kay.

This is indeed one of those rarest of sessions -- every track is a gem, and almost all of the solos are without a doubt inspired. For professional musicians, these would be ideal for study transcriptions in the improvisational art of jazz. Cannonball's sweet treatments of Gordon Jenkins' poignant "Goodbye" and Frank Sinatra's gorgeous "Nancy" display a ballad artistry not always emphasized in contemporary writings about the artist; often invoking a Benny Carter approach. Bill Evans, (sharing almost equal billing with Cannon on the album cover) was perhaps at his first creative peak here in 1961, and is far more than a sideman: he makes every note count, and consice statements flow from his sensual, yet never maudlin piano. His playing on Earl Zindars' beautiful waltz "Elsa" rivals the many other versions he did over the years, as he shapes and carefully hones every phrase. That "inner conviction" he often spoke about in interviews, is most apparent here, and again on "Nancy." It would only be three months after this album was completed that Evans' classic trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian would be recording "live" at the Village Vanguard -- recordings which became his most popular and critically acclaimed albums ever.

Make no mistake, these guys swing too on this session, and bright and airy it is --notably on the often neglected "Toy" by Clifford Jordan, (listen to Cannonball's "laughing" sax motifs and the piano interplay too) and the rousing Gershwin classic "Who Cares". (The CD gives us a previously unreleased version which is just as much fun.) Connie Kay's time is steady and the feeling is light, yet relentless in its refined groove; his long MJQ association with Percy Heath bearing much fruit and spurring on the soloists.

It is not often that a jazz album invokes such intelligent romanticism, without being corny in the least, yet peppered with such joyous swinging. "Know What I Mean" creates a definable and exquisite mood thoughout, and I wouldn't doubt that many romantic evenings were spent with this classic LP on the turntable in the early sixties. Many Julian Adderly fans have said this is some of their favorite work by him, and the same could be said of Evans' superb performance as well.

The sound of the recording is also quite remarkable for the time, which contributes to the overall freshness of these sessions. That these players were all at the top of their form, and outwardly projecting such joy and innate musicality only adds luster to their stature as legends, and it all makes this album one that will keep playing in your head for a long, long time.

© Jan Stevens 1998