Considered one of the great young pianists of the mid-to-late 1950s, Sonny Clark was practically the house pianist at Blue Note during 1957-62 before his premature death in 1963. He led seven albums for Blue Note during that time, appeared on many dates as a sideman, and recorded Cool Struttin, which is considered his main classic. Clark never recorded an unworthy chorus. His playing was full of joyful discoveries, constant swing, and an optimistic creativity that was indescribable and quite infectious. On Cool Struttin from 1958, Clark matches wits and inventive ideas with altoist Jackie McLean and trumpeter Art Farmer. Their four lengthy performances, which include Miles Davis Sippin At Bells and the exotic Deep Night, are filled with magical moments where the five musicians seem to think and create like one.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
Recorded in 1958, this legendary date with the still-under sung Sonny Clark in the leader’s chair also featured a young Jackie McLean on alto (playing with a smoother tone than he had before or ever did again), trumpeter Art Farmer, and the legendary rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, both from the Miles Davis band. The set begins with one of the preeminent “swinging medium blues” pieces in jazz history: the title track with its leveraged fours and eights shoved smoothly up against the walking bass of Chambers and the backbeat shuffle of Jones. Clark’s solo, with its grouped fifths and sevenths, is a wonder of both understatement and groove, while Chambers’ arco solo turns the blues in on itself. While there isn’t a weak note on this record, there are some other tracks that stand out, most notably Miles’ “Sippin’ at Bells,” with its loping Latin rhythm. When McLean takes his solo against a handful of Clark’s shaded minor chords, he sounds as if he may blow it — he comes out a little quick — but he recovers nicely and reaches for a handful of Broadway show tunes to counter the minor mood of the piece. He shifts to both Ben Webster and Lester Young before moving through Bird, and finally to McLean himself, riding the margin of the changes to slip just outside enough to add some depth in the middle register. The LP closes with Henderson and Vallée’s “Deep Night,” the only number in the batch not rooted in the blues. It’s a classic hard bop jamming tune and features wonderful solos by Farmer, who plays weird flatted notes all over the horn against the changes, and McLean, who thinks he’s playing a kind of snake charmer blues in swing tune. This set deserves its reputation for its soul appeal alone.
2. Blue Minor
4. Deep Night