Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway – Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard
Resonance Records HCD2028. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)
There are some jazz commentators who regard super technical achievement as suspect, equating empty virtuosity with absence of artistic purpose. Or, as Shakespeare snidely wrote about Stan Kenton: “sound and fury signifying nothing”. Luckily, Eddie Daniels, chief rabbi of the clarinet, who has accomplished a woodwind technique of formidable ability, also possesses ‘the Cry’, an elusive, but necessary jazz quality identified by writer (and, momentarily, ‘Birth of the Cool’ trombonist) Mike Zwerin.
All of which leads us to a ringside table at New York’s hallowed Village Vanguard in November, 1988, where George Klabin is seated, yet to fulfil his destiny as a jazz label owner. Resting on George’s table is a high-end cassette machine (“I just hit ‘record’ and let it go”). His mini Sony microphone is aimed at both Daniels and close buddy, pianist Roger Kellaway, a couple of exceptional musical talents linked by telepathy, tonight, for the first time, being supported by a magisterial rhythm team, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Al Foster. Ironically, considering you’re reading this review, George’s recording is intended for reference, not release.
Track one, Some O’ This and Some O’ That, a boppy blues in a loping tempo, has Daniels flying unfettered through a bunch of choruses before Kellaway embarks on a solo marked by playful counter-rhythms. Throughout the evening, bass and drums are firmly in the pocket.
Reverie for a Rainy Day contemplates the progress of a moody phrase starting deep in the clarinet’s chalumeau register, repeatedly climbing higher, caressed by Daniel’s expressive tone. The performance is taken at the sort of slow tempo that usually mean agony for drummers, but nothing fazes Al Foster’s imperturbable time.
Unexpectedly, Wolfie’s Samba teleports the Vanguard audience to 18th century Vienna as Daniels, with impeccably legit intonation, essays a few dozen bars of W.A. Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet formally, as written, before segueing south to Brazil, bossa nova and a more appropriate jazz tone. The mercurial Wolfgang Amadeus is present in spirit and would have dug it all, finger-snapping to Kellaway’s spirited solo.
The title track, Just Friends (a song Charlie Parker transformed into a jazz standard) is about two chums enjoying a rubato cubistic conversation. Clarinet and piano trade fragments of the theme and examine them from differing perspectives a la Braque and Picasso before activating their Grade A rhythm section and plunging into effervescent swing.
Finally, Al Foster launches The Spice Man with surreptitious snare taps, propelling the group into a hurtling big dipper reincarnation of a mid-40s Goodman sextet, alternating with a series of slow meditative statements from each musician. Williams’ contribution is a masterly exhibition of arco while Daniels and Kellaway channel early 20th century composer heroes. After a further ensemble burst, Foster offers an object lesson in playing a bluster-free sotto drum solo without sacrificing excitement.
It’s a thought-provoking and breath-taking evening, from 7th Avenue three decades ago. And never intended for release.
Some O’ This and Some O’ That; Reverie for a Rainy Day; Wolfie’s Samba; Just Friends; The Spice Man
Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Roger Kellaway, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Al Foster, drums. Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, November 26, 1988. Details from label website