Oliver Nelson

In a world where weather reports are hardly ever right, presidents can be illegally elected and great performers like Milli-Vanilli turn out to be lip-syncing, it’s tough to know what’s real. Do those kids from “American Idol” really deserve instant fame? Is that really Saddam Hussein on TV, or one of his many evil henchmen?

So yeah, it’s pretty hard to determine what is real and what is not. But I have found a piece of music literature that happens to be truthful – Oliver Nelson’s “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” recorded at the world-famous Van Gelder Studio in 1961.

Nelson is known for his thoughtful work filled with melodic, harmonic and rhythmic complexities. He decided to practice a skill that hundreds of composers before him used, took forms and melodies from certain songs, and molded them together into something different. Nelson, explaining his album concept, said, “The Blues, which is a 12-bar form and the form and chord structure (I’ve Got Rhythm), being 32 measures in length, was my material for all of the composition on this album.”

The album opens with the jazz standard “Stolen Moments,” a piece that takes the form of a minor blues and expands the V to IV section, altering the chords to go up from D to F# back to the D chord, chromatically. The horns (Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard and Nelson himself) state the theme twice, while being backed up by the rhythm section. The solo section is a true minor blues. Each soloist sketches their thoughts of what the truth is; their sounds are concentrated and their phrases often contemplative. Hubbard plays a rather blues-filled solo on the trumpet. Dolphy plays a vibrant and at times swift solo, attacking certain ideas, and ending on a questioning trill. Nelson plays his solo on the alto sax. It is definitely a “different” solo.

At times, it screams out, desperately pleading for the answer, while at other times it sounds diabolical. Bill Evans takes the final solo, arousing memories of the French Impressionists. The theme is stated twice more before heading to the coda. Hubbard leads the band out, cueing the band to hold a C-minor sustained chord.

Another example of Nelson’s morphing of ideas occurs in “Hoe-Down,” which takes rhythm changes and combines it with a famous work of modern symphonic literature. Any guesses as to which piece? I’ll give you a clue: “Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.” Yes, that’s right, it is Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down.” The melody definitely brings on the feeling of being in a spaghetti Western, except with beatniks hanging out in the bar.

Hubbard’s solo flows effortlessly and Dolphy’s sax solo has a great “talking” quality to it. At first, Nelson plays his horn as if he’s in a gospel choir but then he begins to howl.

After all is said and done, what do we know? What don’t we know? The truth is out there, my friend. Search for it. You can probably find it in the jazz section of your local record shop. And if it’s not there, find the owner and demand “The Truth”! It’s worth it, trust me.

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