Cannonball Adderley – Phenix

Cannonball Adderley
Released 1975; Re-released 1999

John Barrett

It was the most ambitious project the Adderleys ever had: BIG MAN told the life of John Henry, an hour-long musical on record. It ran over budget and sales were disappointing. In planning the next album, Fantasy took no chances. PHENIX would remake the Adderley hits, with the electric piano sound he helped bring to jazz. The producer was Orrin Keepnews, who handled their albums at Riverside. It sounds calculated, but the results are fresh: the horns shine big on pulsating backgrounds. It’s less dated than you’d suspect, and the mighty Cannon rises triumphant from the ashes of BIG MAN. As you knew he would.

Starting with light synth, the mood comes slowly; when the horns appear, it’s a surprise. It’s “Hi-Fly”, though calm, with the trace of a samba. Nat’s mute is gorgeous, wandering slow as percussion pops. Cannon is subdued, on a breathy soprano; the ideas are there but the solo never takes off. Unlike the ending: a flourish from Cannonball, and the stars twinkle. Better is “Work Song”, an alto perched on edgy keys. He stutters with force, and George Duke comments. Nat takes it simply: his sound is grand, a match for the vamp. As good as he is, the crown goes to Duke: wah-wah like a guitar solo, and effects that fit the proceedings. (The whole production sounds like Airto’s efforts for Cal Tjader — that is a compliment.) Nice work all around.

“Jive Samba” comes steaming, a slow start through a forest of bells. The soprano is perfect — lonely notes point upward, then some festive spirals. Duke is gimmicky but nice, as he sounds like plucked strings. “This Here” creeps in without notice: the horn riff is there, but mere hints from the keyboard. Cannonball yawns and the tones stretch, from lumbering steps to bright twitters. Duke is splendid; through the bright clusters are bits of the old soul-jazz. “Sidewalks” gives a taste of the old days; Cannon is fierce, barreling through with power and skill. The mute is there, and a mighty walk from Sam Jones. The pleasure is solid, and you’re hanging on the notes even as it fades.

“Hamba Nami” gets the funk treatment, and the leader shouts up a storm. (The bird calls are hokey, but they leave early on.) “Domination” is a spotlight for Nat: he moves under pressure, the notes flying while the drums boil. The tone is soft, the mood is hard — it all fits together. But not the synth solo — it sounds like it belongs on Starsky & Hutch! A slightly more straight-ahead turn would have worked, though the tune itself is lovely.

“Country Preacher” is deep and strong, sparked by Cannon’s best solo. He pleads with sincerity, shouting when Nat joins in. A triumph; maybe the synth is too thick, but that is minor. “Stars Fall” gets a creamy vibrato, long luscious notes, and an actual piano! Percussion aside, this is a duet, and quite a task for Mike Wolff. With a tough act to follow, he starts dancing like Tyner — the leader comes back stronger than ever. A good old-fashioned battle — your ears are victorious.

While meant as a resurgance, PHENIX proved to be a swan song — the last studio album Cannon completed. It’s a nice blend (old songs/new sound; the current group with old-time greats), and the songs glitter through the busy settings. It shows the wealth of the Adderley catalog, and how adaptable the leader was. The times had changed, but the fire still burned.

Rating: *** 3/4. Very worth while, especially the tracks with Duke.

Songs: Hi-Fly; Work Song;Sack O’ Woe; Jive Samba; This Here; The Sidewalks of New York; Hamba Nami; Domination; 74 Miles Away; Country Preacher; Stars Fell on Alabama; Walk Tall/Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Musicians: Cannonball Adderley (soprano and alto saxes); Nat Adderley (cornet); George Duke, Mike Wolff (keyboards); Sam Jones or Walter Booker (bass); Louis Hayes or Roy McCurdy (drums); Airto Moreira (percussion).

For more info, contact: Fantasy Jazz