365 Days of Album Recommendations – Jan 17

Oliver Nelson – The Blues and The Abstract Truth


The blues can be so much, mean so much, do so much. The blues of Charley Patton and Sleepy John Estes. The blues of Albert King and Magic Sam. The blues of Alvin Youngblood Hart and Catfish Keith. The blues of Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt. All connected, all unique, all brilliant.

I am currently reading “The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records” and was inspired to return to this album after a number of years away from my last listen—a distance I regret, as this record is such a remarkable piece of work.

It was arranged and composed by Oliver Nelson, who lends his estimable saxophone to the recordings as well. Nelson’s touch as an arranger is excellent, in line with the Gil Evans “cool” sound, but standing alone by virtue of its soulful and deceptively simple musicality. He was someone for whom modality simply meant knowing how to play the blues.

The roster of talent here is absurd:

  • Eric Dolphy: Incomparable flute & alto, here a sly contributor to the richly layered soundscape …
  • Bill Evans: My second favorite jazz pianist of all time (Monk, of course, being first)!
  • Freddie Hubbard: Standing tall here, a true giant, free of his Miles-ish-nesses …
  • Paul Chambers: The greatest jazz bassist. Period
  • Roy Haynes: In the drum seat for SO many canonical jazz albums it’s just stupid to bother listing them …

And so on!

The song Hoe Down may throw you. Don’t listen to that song first. It’s the one arguably divisive song on the album. I like to think of it as the crucial flaw that makes the true beauty. The fella with the lazy eye. The gal with the limp. Such it is with Hoe Down.

Listen to Stolen Moments first.

And then kick every single musician you know who makes lazy blues albums. Me included, if you don’t like any or all of the albums I’ve done. This album sets a standard that we are all challenged to live up to, because it shows us in vivid definition yet another side of blues music’s generous soul. This is high art, and low art. This is music for the brain, and the bedroom. Weeping and laughter. Yin and the Yang. Over, under, sideways, down.

Abstract or not, it’s the truth.



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