Sonny Stitt & The Top Brass
Sonny Stitt (alto sax), Reunald Jones, Blue Mitchell, Dick Vance (trumpets), Matthew Gee and Jimmy Cleveland (trombones), Willie Ruff (French horn), Duke Jordan (piano), Perri Lee (organ), Joe Benjamin (bass), Philly Joe Jones or Frank Brown (drums).
Written by Sonny Stitt (A4, B3, B5), Richard Carpenter (A1), Carmen Lombardo (A2), Gus Kahn (A2), Johnny Green (A2), Tadd Dameron (A3), Buddy Bernier (B1), Nat Simon (B1), Jimmy Mundy (B2), Tadd Dameron (B4)
1LP, standard sleeve
Original Analog Master Tape : Yes
Heavy Press : 180g
Record color : black
Speed : 33 RPM
Size : 12'’
Record Press : Pallas
Label : Speakers corner
Original Label : Atlantic
Award : TAS
Recording: July 1962 in New York City
Production: Ahmet Ertegun
Originally released in 1962
Reissued in 2020
Side A :
- Souls Valley
- On A Misty Night
Side B :
- Sea Sea Rider
- The Four Ninety
- Hey Pam
« Sonny Stitt was equally proficient on both the alto, and tenor saxophone. He was known as a “take no prisoners” saxophonist, who could outplay most anyone in a “cutting” session. He has been compared to Charlie Parker, for his speed and fluency on the horn. Stitt’s improvisations were heavily influenced by the blues, and he could also be very lyrical and expressive on ballads. For a period of time, he played the Varitone electrified sax, for which he had an equal amount of fans as detractors.
In 1962, Stitt had a chance to record with a dream brass section, utilizing two of the most accomplished arrangers of the day, Jimmy Mundy and the iconic, Tadd Dameron. This session, recorded over a two day period in mid-July, required a discipline that Stitt did not usually need to display on his previous record dates. He had to be more “economical” with his solos, and more tempered in his presentation, sharing his formidable skills with a veteran brass section, providing colors and commentary, whereas in the past he could free blow to his heart’s content.
Stitt passes the test with ease. Even on the three tracks that he penned, of the nine tracks here, Sonny fits right in. The brass section is composed of three trumpets, two trombones, and a french horn. The rhythm section is made up of either the veteran, Duke Jordan on piano, or Perri Lee on organ. Joe Benjamin is on bass on all tracks, while Philly Joe Jones, or Frank Brown, handle the drum set.
“Souls Valley opens side one with Lee on organ setting the blues in motion, before Stitt takes over. (Unfortunately, the liner notes do not specify which of the trumpet players take solos, so it is difficult to make comments on their involvement). “Coquette” is next with its familiar theme, and Sonny effectively plays off of the horns.
“On a Misty Night,” has Dameron arranging with a polished sheen. Stitt has some very high register choruses, and goes out on the tune with notes that could be a hearing test challenge. Sonny’s own “Stittsie” gives him a rare chance in this setting to really stretch out. I’m not sure, but I think it is my favorite trumpeter, Blue Mitchell, who gets the trumpet solo.
Side two opens with a classic big band version of “Poinciana.” Sonny is relatively restrained as he glides over the chord changes. Jimmy Mundy’s “Boom-Boom” has a real Basie feel, both boisterous, yet polished. “Sea Sea Rider” is a blues ballad, and it is a real treat to hear trombonists, Matthew Gee and Jimmy Cleveland, trade choruses. Duke Jordan gets a bit of time to work his magic.
“The Four Ninety” is another Tadd Dameron arrangement that just feels right. “Hey Pam,” from Stitt, closes out the album on a sweet note, with Stitt again a strong team player, content to let the tune come to him, rather than dominate.
All in all, this is a winning effort for Stitt, and a chance to appreciate his talents, even in a restrained setting. The remastered sound is an extra bonus… » Jeff Krow, Audiophile Audition, December 2020
General opinion has it that Sonny Stitt always stood in Charlie Parker’s shadow. That, however, is unjustifiable. The legendary jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote, for example: »Sonny has been one of the wholly involved players, well known and admired for his soul and the earthiness of his message only by musicians who feel and play like he does and by that part of the jazz audience that is most moved by naked, open emotion. He has made his mark with them as an honest yea-sayer who can’t help but play what he knows and feels.
« The present recording is proof of this – a session which shouldn’t really have worked out so well. Sonny Stitt’s alto saxophone presides over a seven-man-strong brass group, and although the prospect of a Sonny Stitt big band does not sound too promising initially, this rendezvous is really enjoyable, thanks in part to Stitt’s superb solos. At this time he was on the top of his form and he plays freely over the basis provided by the brass section consisting of Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Cleveland and Willie Ruff. The arrangements by Tadd Dameron and Jimmy Mundy are closely-knit yet offer enough room for swing and a generous pinch of soul. Special highlights are contributed by the unknown, female organist Perri Lee –, little groovy additions that are really successful and infuse the arrangements with a slender sound and sparkle. Although "Sonny Stitt & The Top Brass" may not stand in the limelight like "Boss Tenors" or "Salt And Pepper", it is certainly on a par with these from an artistic point of view.
Allmusic : 4.5 / 5 ; Discogs : Audiophile Audition : 4 / 5