January/February 1997

Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers Quintet
Blue Note Records

By the time he led this 1957 date at the age of 22, Chambers was a seasoned recording musician, a sideman with Miles Davis and a bassist respected for his time, harmonic savvy and technique. His understanding of the profundities and subtleties in Davis' music made him a pivotal figure in the new approaches to jazz that were stirring in Miles' band in the late 1950s.

This album, however, is notable for the quality of its '50s mainstream music played by five relatively young masters. Drummer Elvin Jones, at 30, was the old man of the group. Chambers was the youngster. In between were trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Tommy Flanagan and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. Benny Golson wrote two of the pieces and, from the sound of things, had an arranging hand in the other four.

The purity and woodiness of Chambers' sound was beautifully captured by Rudy Van Gelder in the straightforward two-track stereo that most engineers since the '50s have managed to "perfect" to muddiness. Soloing and supporting his colleagues, Chambers is magnificent; in the clarity of his walking lines, you can almost see the harmonic bones of a tune. Young bassists persuaded that speed and agility are first principles might profit from studying this Chambers refresher course in the basics of time and tone. A good starting place is his exposition of the melody of "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" and the following solo. Next lesson: his magnificent arco work in the ensemble of Golson's "Four Strings" and his bowed solo. There are many others.
Byrd, Jordan, Flanagan and Jones are excellent throughout. During this period, Byrd was at his career peak of crispness and originality. Although a major league player, Jordan was a rookie and had yet to overcome a tendency to repeat ideas from solo to solo. Flanagan was Flanagan, the epitome of elegance and taste. The pre-Coltrane Elvin was full of controlled urgency.
Bass players and listeners who love superior bass playing should grab this one. It is a reminder of Chambers' stature among bassists.

-Doug Ramsey

Originally published in January/February 1997
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