Ken McIntyre – “Stone Blues”
Prestige Records – Recorded May 31, 1960 Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Alto Saxophone – Ken McIntyre
Bass – Paul Morrison
Drums – Bobby Ward
Flute – Ken McIntyre (tracks: A3, B1, B3)
Piano – Dizzy Sal
Trombone – John Mancebo Lewis
Written-By – Ken McIntyre (tracks: A1 to B3)
Supervised By – Esmond Edwards
Recorded By – Rudy Van Gelder
Design [Cover] – Don Schlitten
Liner Notes – Joe Goldberg
A1 Stone Blues: 11:44
A2 Cornballs: 4:21
A3 Blanche: 6:00
B1 Mellifluous: 7:14
B2 Smax: 5:07
B3 Charshee: 4:39
B4 I’ll Close My Eyes: 5:22 (written-By – Kaye*, Reid*)
Liner notes by Joe Goldberg
It is not until just recently that anyone like Ken McIntyre would have come onto the jazz scene; a man with a Master’s degree in music from the Boston Conservatory who has decided to be a jazz musician; whose feelings about jazz have led him to abandon certain classical techniques; and whose abandonment of those techniques have caused certain less-than-astute auditors to say that he does not know how to play his instrument.
That last charge is the invariable response of unready ears to most any stylistic innovation; if the man in question obviously can play his instrument, then the only thing to say about him is that he cannot play jazz.
Ken McIntyre can do both as he has proved admirably on his previous Prestige/New Jazz release, Looking Ahead. He didn’t prove it to everyone, though, and some of the remarks about the album made him, as he sardonically puts it, “aspire to become a critic”. That album featured Eric Dolphy, and a top-flight New York rhythm section made up of Walter Bishop Jnr., Sam Jones, and Arthur Taylor. It is often the case on a new musician’s first recording, that he will be put with such a group: professionals who are sympathetic to the newcomer’s style, and whose names, it might be added, will help the record to sell. This practice can work out well, as I think it did in McIntyre’s case; but sometimes the presence of old pros on a new musician’s first date, plus the possibly awesome surroundings of the recording studio, can serve to inhibit whatever talent the newcomer has to the extent that is never made apparent on the record.
With this new release, McIntyre has now recorded in both situations. His associates on this record are all from Boston, as is Ken, and were, for a while, a regular working group. It is inevitable that this new record is a more complete statement of his music than was the other.
As he puts it, “The musicians on Looking Ahead were all marvellous musicians, but I was in no position to dictate to them. On this record, I was the leader.”
There is a somewhat pernicious tendency to label in jazz, particularly when what is being labelled is not easily grasped by the man doing the labeling, so McIntyre has been put into a classification already, what one writer calls “Post-Ornette Coleman saxophonists”. How there can be post-Coleman anything when that gentleman has only been in the public eye for two years and hasn’t gotten his own music down yet is slightly beyond me, but even if one were willing to grant the classification, McIntyre would not belong in it. That should be apparent as soon as one hears the highly melodic, harmonic music contained in this record.
“I want to appeal as a human being, not a sputnik in orbit,” McIntyre says. “I want to have a link with the past, and that link is chord changes.” Undoubtedly the reason he has been linked with Coleman in his “vocal” approach to the saxophones, an approach which is a definite intent with him. “I was a singer before I played,” he says,” but I stopped when I took up the saxophone. There are many notes other than the ones a piano is capable of – quartertones and semi-quarter tones that the voice can sing. The ear is not accustomed to hearing them all, but that’s only a matter of training. They can be played on the saxophone.””
The phrase about a matter of training brings up a deeply felt ambition of McIntyre’s, one which ties in with his view of jazz, and with which I, for one, wish him great success. “I’ve been taking education courses,” he says, “so that I can teach music in New York public schools. There is so much mimicry among musicians that sometimes a guy who doesn’t play lick number thirty-eight can’t get work. I think if you started kids in school playing jazz when they were eight or nine, they’d be original, rather than mimics. I’d like to teach, and make albums, and personal appearances now and again, all tied in to the same idea.”
At least part of McIntyre’s ambition stems from his own experiences in New York, as a participant in what Nat Hentoff has called, with frightening accuracy, the “jazz wars”. “There’s so much that’s unnecessary. You have to smile, and shake hands, and make certain scenes. When I came to New York I was naive, and thought that you got work on merit. The phone rings, and someone offers you a job. Three days later the phone rings again, and it’s the same guy, telling you the job has been cancelled. It’s very easy to become bitter in a situation like that, but I don’t think I have.” As a husband and father, it is necessary for him to work, and he has preferred taking a post office job rather than participating in what he finds unnecessary.
The group on this record sounds very loose and free-swinging, which it is, but it’s “appeal”, a word that crops up very often in McIntyre’s conversation, has been carefully worked out. “I like the sound of alto and trombone, and particularly of flute and trombone. But you have to have exactly the right trombone player to compliment you, and I think I found him. Take Brubeck and Desmond, for instance. Paul plays very melodic, and Dave is rhythmic and harmonic. If either one of them played like the other, they’d have nothing. In our group, John Lewis, the trombonist, plays a few notes, staccato, and my style is to play many notes, legato. That way, we compliment each other.”
The word “appeal” is also the reason for the inclusion of I’ll Close My Eyes, a standard which McIntyre felt would be familiar to everyone, as a basis of comparison on which to judge his work on the other tunes, which are his. His degree in music, incidentally, is in composition, but the several techniques which he undoubtedly has at his disposal are never flaunted for their own sake.
Two of the titles, Stone Blues and Mellifluous require no elucidation. Blanche is Ken’s mother, and Charshee is his name for Charlotte, his wife. Cornballs is based entirely on a progression of minor thirds, and the title is comment on the kind of use often made that progression.
The most immediately appealing track on the album is Smax. The title is an anagram for the standard abbreviation of Christmas. The charming suggestion of a children’s game song in the melody line is sufficient to explain the title, and the slowing of the tempo at the end is Ken’ impression of a child’s weariness at the end of a day playing with what was under the tree. McIntyre wrote the piece because “I think there can be more than the usual emotions in jazz.”
It is standard annotator’s practice, when faced with a difficult, forbidding album of intransigently jazz, to say that the music will reveal itself to one who is willing to make the effort, that it will reward repeated listening, and other such appeals. And there are albums of which this is true, but McIntyre’s is not one of them. It requires no effort at all to get this message, because Ken has been successful in his quest for “appeal”. And he has done it without any way sacrificing or compromising his musical ideals. That he has been able to create an immediately pleasurable album without altering any of his concepts is, as much as anything else, the measure of his achievement.
STONE BLUES – Prestige/New Jazz 8259:
Stone Blues; Cornballs; Blanche; Melliflous; Smax; Charshee; I’ll close my eyes
Personnel: McIntyre, alto saxophone, flute; John Mancebo Lewis, trombone; Dizzy Sal, piano; Paul Morrison, bass; Bobby Ward, druma.
Rating: * * * * 1/2
I have found this – album so thoroughly enjoyable and consistently rewarding that I have no reservations in commending it as heartily as I can.
The second disc under McIntyre’s name in Prestige’s valuable New Jazz series, this might be more properly considered his real debut as a leader. In the previous collection (Looking Ahead, NJ-8247), made in the company of such strong voices as Eric Dolphy, Walter Bishop, Sam Jones, and Art Taylor, McIntyre’s role was little more than that of a sideman. He had little opportunity in such surroundings to exert himself or to dominate the session.
Here, happily, the opposite is true, with the result that his own compellingly original musical thinking animates and courses through every piece in this collection. The four musicians with whom he works here, all virtually unknown, are from McIntyre’s native Boston and had been together as a group for a while before recording. They are more than sympathetic to his music; their own approaches seem logical descendants of his own conception. Sort of musical step children.
McIntyre as a composer and instrumentalist is one of the least forbidding of the wave of young musicians involved in the so-called (for better or worse) new thing. His music possesses to a high degree the total emotional commitment that characterizes the work of the other members of the
Jazz avant garde, yet he has not discarded the conventional jazz structures or forms. He builds his improvisations on easily followed chord patterns (“I want to have a link with the past,” he says, “and that link is chord changes”) and though his solos are developed along fixed harmonic lines, they are likewise motivated by the same aesthetic as are, say, those of Dolphy or Ornette Coleman.
McIntyre’s approach, then, is a unique and workable marriage of conventional and expressionist practices. Yet it is a wholly personal, cogent, and integrated approach with no loose ends, as anyone of the seven pieces here will abundantly attest.
His music, whether written or extemporised, is surprisingly lyrical and tender-despite the brusqueness of its execution (and, like a number of his compatriots, McIntyre often adopts a nervous bristling, purposely brutal sound on alto).
His melody lines possess a singular charm and striking originality, are suffused with pungent wit in the unexpected twists and turns, yet possess a flowing continuity and a sense of individuality, of which Stone Blues is a fine example.
The three numbers composed for flute-Blanche, Mellifluous, and Eyes-are the most overtly romantic and ardently lyrical pieces, as might be expected; still they are sinewy, full-bodied samples of a kind of lyricism with guts.
McIntyre’s alto playing is the main show however. He spins out his long lines in Sinuous, spiralling obligatto manner- his tone dry and crackling- in a veritable torrent of notes (buckshot fashion) an approach in which the cry of the human voice is ever-present.
His blistering style is handsomely complemented by trombonist Lewis’ spare, warm, essentially legato approach. Lewis acquits himself extremely well, constructing a sense of discrete, fluid, and unhurried solos in a manner suggestive of Billy Byers, especially so on Smax. The flute-trombone voicing, by the way, is a delight. Rhythm support throughout is impeccable.
All in all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating set. (P.W.)