Cannonball Adderley Quintet – Legends Live: Stuttgart, 1969 (2012)

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Julian “Cannonball” Adderley is the undisputed leader on this date — the big-hearted, soul-lifting center of every song. But the proper focus here might just be on keyboardist Joe Zawinul who, as recording commenced on the live date that would one day become Legends Live: Stuttgart 1969, was in between two seminal moments in jazz history.

He’d just completed recordings for Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, only a month earlier, and was on the cusp of co-founding the legendary fusion band Weather Report.

Both projects would represent dramatic leaps forward in the melding of jazz with more complex rhythms and atmospheres, yet here we have Zawinul moving back into a more conventional bebop setting — for just a moment.

Of course, that’s an oversimplified version of what the altoist Adderley, trumpet-playing sibling Nat, bassist Victor Gaskin, drummer Roy McCurdy and Zawinul were doing on Legends Live: Stuttgart 1969. For too long, the easy distortion has been to paint Cannonball as a single-faceted blues-informed player. By this point, however, there were a number of notable hints toward former bandmate John Coltrane’s edgier tone (see Zawinul’s “Painted Desert”), and an underreported willingness to explore out toward the music’s then unknown edges. Often damned with faint praise as a popularizer, Cannonball Adderley again proves to be a worthy sparring partner for Joe Zawinul, whose earthier contributions of this era have also been largely forgotten.

In fact, Zawinul’s unflagging grace, and impish generosity of spirit, belie how much the keyboardist — cast forever in a few short years as a member of the rock-melding vanguard — could get so firmly in the pocket. This set connects him all over again to the two most notable moments in the 1960s-era Adderley songbook, “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and “Country Preacher” — both of which were actually composed by his Austrian sideman. Neither, unfortunately, appears here, but you clearly sense their sweet, swinging joy on “Sweet Emma,” a Nat composition.

There are deeper shadings to both men, something heard quite clearly on Legends Live: Stuttgart 1969, due today from Jazzhaus.

For every finger-licking, old-school soul-jazz breakdown like Roebuck Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” for every moment of undiminished straight-ahead verve like “Walk Tall,” there were these more intriguingly free-form touches on tunes like “Somewhere.” This was an amalgam that could incorporate a chunky sense of inside-out invention to the middle portion of that Staples tune, as Gaskin and Zawinul move almost effortlessly from funk to fusion, then back again. They were also a band that could explore the bottom of the gut bucket on “Oh Babe” (though you wish Cannonball’s winkingly coy rap was more clearly audible), only to floor it into a nervy oop-bop-sh’bam on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue and Boogie,” and finally settle into a hard-won sense of determination on the rousing closer “Work Song.”

By the time it’s over, you realize that this wasn’t a backslide for Zawinul, so much as a quick breath in advance of his next charge forward — a moment to reconnect with something more elemental, but also something fresh and unsentimental, before gathering for what would become his next sweeping adventure.

There wasn’t much, really, that this witty, underrated group couldn’t do — save for keeping the always-roving Joe Zawinul around. Lucky for us, this forgotten performance has been uncovered for remind us all over again.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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