Cannonball Adderley - alto sax; Nat Adderley - cornet, vocals; Michael Wolff - Fender Rhodes electric piano; Walter Booker - electric bass, upright bass; Roy McCurdy - drums
By 1975, alto saxophonist-bandleader Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, a key member of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue sessions from 1959, was fully immersed in the burgeoning fusion movement, as was Davis himself. By employing electric piano, electric bass and funky backbeats, Adderley was stepping into jazz-rock realms with authority. A perfect example of this new muse, which he had been courting since 1967's 74 Miles Away, was his kinetic opening number at the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival - "Phases" from 1975's Pyramid on Fantasy Records. An aggressive number that would fit right alongside material by Weather Report, Return to Forever or other high-voltage fusion bands of the day, it was fueled by Roy McCurdy's driving backbeat and marked by Mike Wolff's spiky electric piano comping, along with his audacious ring modulator solo midway through. This more experimental '70s version of Cannonball was at odds with the portrait of the man who had become such a prominent figure on the soul-jazz scene of the '60s. But Adderley did not entirely turn his back on his own roots, as he demonstrates here with new renditions of two soul-jazz anthems from the past -- "Country Preacher" (which he dedicates to Rev. Jesse Jackson) and the popular "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." Cannonball's pungent, authoritative alto rings out with gusto on these two numbers penned by his former pianist, Joe Zawinul, who went on to form Weather Report after leaving Adderley's quintet.
Elsewhere on this vibrant Sunday evening set, drummer McCurdy is prominently featured on Nat Adderley's blazing uptempo swinger "Five of a Kind," which also features the dynamic altoist stretching out heroically in Bird-like fashion on his horn. Brother Nat turns in a particularly bristling muted trumpet solo on this boppish romp. The brothers Adderley dig deep on the slow blues "Oh Babe!," which features Nat delivering some wild, unrestrained, earthy vocals. And they conclude their Newport in New York set with a snippet from their hard-bop signature number, "The Scene." Sadly, Cannonball died on August 8, 1975, just one month after this Newport gig.
A powerful presence on any bandstand, as well as a brilliant alto saxophonist, prolific composer, exuberant bandleader and raconteur, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was one of the most popular figures in jazz during his heyday. Born on September 15, 1928 in Tampa, Florida, he was teaching music classes at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale before making the jazzman's pilgrimage to New York City in 1955. There he drew attention from the jazz cognoscenti in town after sitting in at the Café Bohemia with bassist Oscar Pettiford's band and word soon spread about this big alto burner from Florida. The brothers Adderley made their recording debut on a June 26, 1955 Kenny Clarke session for Savoy entitled Bohemia After Dark. Word of Cannonball's mighty prowess on the alto sax eventually traveled to Miles Davis, who hired him in October, 1957 for his sextet, which would eventually include tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Together they recorded the 1959 jazz classic Kind of Blue, which more than 50 years later continues to outsell most other jazz albums on the market and to date has sold an astonishing four million copies. Adderley's only Blue Note outing as a leader, 1958's Somethin' Else, is also considered a jazz classic.
Following his stint with Miles, Cannonball formed his own quintet with brother Nat in 1959 and subsequently won over audiences with such successful soul-jazz crossover recordings as 1960's Dem Dirty Blues, 1961's Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley and especially 1966's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (whose wildly popular title track was written by his then-pianist, Austrian émigré Josef Zawinul). He stuck a big toe into the fusion pool in 1967 on Zawinul's adventurous composition "74 Miles Away," which presaged his later work with Weather Report. The quintet's later recordings emphasized funk-fusion, although Adderley revisited his own past on 1975's Phenix, which featured new versions of many of his earlier hits. His evolution as an artist was cut short when he died suddenly from a stroke at age 46 on August 8, 1975 while on tour. Later that year he was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame and Zawinul composed the poignant ballad "Cannonball" (which appeared on Weather Report's 1976 album Black Market) as a tribute to his former leader. Cannonball's younger brother Nat (born on November 25, 1931) continued to lead bands and record for a number of labels prior to his death on January 2, 2000.
-Written by Bill Milkowski