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Elvin Jones: Revival: Live at Pookie’s Pub (Blue Note)

Review of a previously unreleased set of July 1967 recordings by the legendary drummer/bandleader

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Cover of Elvin Jones album Revival: Live at Pookie's Pub
Cover of Elvin Jones album Revival: Live at Pookie’s Pub

In the history of New York jazz clubs, Pookie’s Pub barely lands on the radar. The Hudson Street space was miles away from the Village Vanguard or Birdland in terms of musical action (although geographically it sat across the street from the Half Note). Originally an Italian eatery, it only hosted jazz from the fall of 1966 to the end of the following year, charging no cover at the door.

From June to December 1967, Pookie’s featured an extended residency for Elvin Jones, who was getting back on his feet after parting ways with John Coltrane and spending a few harrowing months in Japan. One might be tempted to interpret this setting as a case of the mighty drummer falling hard. And you would be very wrong. This is Elvin Jones, after all.

The drummer led a quartet of rotating members at Pookie’s. When an employee of the Ampex tape company documented a few nights in July 1967 at Jones’ urging, the band included tenor saxophonist Joe Farrell, bassist Wilbur Little, and pianist Billy Greene. Organist Larry Young sat in on piano for a reading of “Gingerbread Boy.” Jones might have played to little or no audience—applause during the set is minimal—but he didn’t let it affect his output. These recordings reveal the same thunder and drive that sealed his reputation with the Coltrane Quartet. In fact, his enthusiasm occasionally threatens to overpower his bandmates, but by and large there’s a good balance of everyone.

Farrell, who would appear on Jones’ first three albums on Blue Note, was already the perfect tenor player for the drummer by ’67. He didn’t attempt to copy Coltrane, but like his forebear he played with an endless stream of ideas that galvanized Jones, especially in a lengthy version of “Oleo.” Greene, whose sole studio session would be the Jones/Richard Davis album Heavy Sounds recorded the same year, was a strong accompanist. His “M.E.,” a vignette in the studio, became a 20-minute workout here. The bounce in Little’s bass playing managed to cut through in the recording, no easy feat when playing with Jones.

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This two-disc/three-record set offers an interesting cross section of new works and familiar standards-to-be. Farrell’s flute on “My Funny Valentine” and “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” plays it a bit safe, while his “13 Avenue ‘B’” pushes everyone to a fevered pitch. “On the Trail,” an excerpt from The Grand Canyon Suite, might seem like a questionable choice, but the band gets plenty of inspiration from it.

Jones’ solos on tracks like his new “Keiko’s Birthday March” might wander a bit, but he wasn’t thinking about a recording at the time; he was playing “like there’d be no tomorrow,” to borrow a quote from one of the accompanying essays in the detailed package. Besides, anytime he trades fours—or simply whacks his snare drum—the results simply feel joyous.

Learn more about Revival: Live at Pookie’s Pub on Amazon

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.