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Earl Hines: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time (Impulse) is basically a 1966 Ellington date with Earl “Fatha” Hines at the piano and trumpeters Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, Bill Berry and Clark Terry; trombonists Lawrence Brown and Buster Cooper; saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby and Paul Gonsalves; and clarinetists Jimmy Hamilton and Pee Wee Russell (!). The big surprise, though, is the inclusion of bassist Richard Davis and drummer Elvin Jones on more than half the numbers. It’s quite amazing to hear how well these two fit in while still expressing their own dynamic, and at times explosive personalities. Everyone has his moment on what is essentially a blowing session. Brown brays and moans on “Black and Tan Fantasy,” and drummer Sonny Greer is positively slammin’ on “Cottontail.” Nance sings about a woman “who don’t need no hair at all” on Lionel Hampton’s “The Blues in My Flat,” and Hines plays a hip two choruses on his own “You Can Depend On Me” before giving way to Russell’s delightfully spasmodic clarinet solo. The most incredible moment may well belong to Terry, whose pocket trumpet solo with plunger on the title track is brash, playful and ultimately stunning. He starts his solo with clipped swinging phrases, follows it with perfectly placed repeated notes that end with a shake instead of a vibrato and then caps it up on the high wire with a tricky figure I had to listen to three times before I could figure out what he did. This guy coulda been a Wallenda!

Originally Published