Actuel : 1970
AJ, alto sax; Beb Guerin, bass; Claude Delcloo, drums.
Arthur Jones was a particular kind of free jazz cat — think Alan Shorter, Ric Colbeck, Jacques Coursil, Don Ayler — one whose almost chimerically brief moment of blazing creativity flashed across the firmament before streaking off into the night sky, leaving only faint traces and contrails. Jones came out of Cleveland, was schooled in rock bands before being introduced to the New Thing, version 1.0, via Dolphy and Coleman.
In the later 1960s he played with, among others, Frank Wright, Sunny Murray, and Coursil, who escorted Jones to Paris in 1969 to take in the whole BYG scene coalescing there in the wake of the Pan-African festival in Algiers — not to mention the open revolt. It was in Paris in the summer of 1969 that Jones recorded this date as a leader, one of his very few, while also appearing around that time on discs with Archie Shepp, Burton Greene, Clifford Thornton, Dave Burrell, etc. According to the invaluable liner notes to the Jazzactuel box set, written by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley, Jones died in New York in 1998.
Jones’ sound is warm, almost sweet, with hints of Johnny Hodges and Cannonball Adderley around the edges. That said, the soaring opening of “B.T.” reminds us of nothing other than Coltrane’s “Afro Blue” from Live at Birdland . They both take flight in the same manner, heading straight for the clouds with a determined whoop. The trilling notes in the theme also recall “Afro Blue,” if that theme had been boiled down to a few resonant tremors — a sister tune to that performance. There’s not much higher praise we can offer.
Jones’ insistent and incantatory tone throughout this track is spine-tingling, really; the rhythm section breakdown just there to throw his playing into relief, so we can catch our collective breath and better appreciate his second run at the melody. This is so melodic and easy to follow, structured without ever being simple or over-considered. It’s emotional without losing its complexity, or sense of form. A total fucking bravura performance. Damn.
“C.R.M.” is storming in a different mode, with Jones throwing out cycles of notes, doing frantic figure eights. Where you could feel his steadily beat upward in “B.T.,” here he’s chasing himself in a circle, creating a whirlwind, a gravitational pull — a cloud of sparrows massing from tree to tree.
There are also lovely ballads on the album — one of which, “Brother B,” can be heard on the Jazzactuel collection (and which can be bought as an Amazon d/l for $0.89). These showcase Jones’ range, his tenderness, his romantic side; but these qualities can be heard here as well, in the midst of some of the barn-burners. Needless to say, we find Scorpio to be a lost gem, an overlooked album that features a super-strong alto voice that was ultimately heard far too little.
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Speaking of Coltrane (sorta), we highly recommend you tune your radios and internets to the WFMU dial come Friday morning, 11am EST, when dj Doug Schulkind will begin airing the first of five hour-long segments of a wonderful Coltrane radio doc, Tell Me How Long Trane’s Been Gone. (The subsequent segments will each air at 11am for the following four weeks.) Some PR-biage:
Twenty years in the making, this 5-hour series celebrates the creative genius of John Coltrane. This week’s kickoff will feature rare recorded interviews with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, Coltrane’s first-ever recorded performance, and interviews with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Lacy and numerous other musical titans.
Unlike much ‘FMU programming, the doc serials will not be archived, so be there or miss it.
Coltrane appears to be undergoing something of a resurgence, odd as that may be to consider. We also strongly suggest that those with a decent grip on the tastes and predilections on offer here will soundly enjoy the new Ben Ratliff book on Coltrane, which does a wonderful job of recapturing Coltrane the artist, and which is even more articulate on the subject of Coltrane’s influence — anxious-making or otherwise — on subsequent generations of players.