Booker Ervin - tenor sax; Chick Corea - piano; Reggie Johnson - bass; Lenny McBrowne - drums
A powerful, bluesy tenor saxophonist with a full-bodied robust tone, Booker Ervin was a highly regarded figure within musician and jazz aficionado circles but less well known among the general public. Nevertheless, he made a strong impact on any audience that experienced his passionate tenor playing in person.
At this July 2nd performance at Freebody Park in Newport, the potent tenorman was joined by 26-year-old Chick Corea (a year away from his encounter with Miles Davis on 1968's Filles de Kilimanjaro) along with bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Lenny McBrowne. They come out aggressively on the angular opener, "Mojo," from Ervin's current album at the time on the Pacific Jazz label, Structurally Sound. While his tone may be raw and edgy in the bold Texas tenor tradition (Illinois Jacquet, James Clay, David "Fathead" Newman), Ervin's astounding velocity and intense blowing here is coming directly out of the John Coltrane school, which Corea acknowledges by deftly feeding him McCoy Tyner-esque block chords to spur Booker on to some ecstatic heights. Corea contributes an intriguing solo whereby he pushes the contour of the harmony to some extremes while judicially using space. The underrated and overlooked Johnson also turns in an extended unaccompanied upright bass solo that is polished, virtuosic and daring. And Ervin's longtime drummer McBrowne adds an extroverted solo to lift the proceedings.
Ervin shows a more lyrical side of his playing on the relaxed ballad "Deep Night." His plaintive cries here have an almost vocal quality to them and the trio provides sensitive accompaniment. Corea's interactive phrasing is especially effective here as Johnson lays it down with solid quarter notes and McBrowne provides gentle brushwork to set the tone. Corea's solo here is delicate but harmonically probing, sounding like a cross between Bill Evans and Jaki Byard (who he played alongside in Mingus' sextet). Ervin finishes off his Newport set with the uptempo burner "Boo's Blues," which has him digging deep into his swaggering Texas tenor roots while swinging ferociously over the frantic pulse provided by the stellar rhythm tandem of Johnson and McBrowne. Corea's instincts on his solo, once again, tend toward the playful side of 'outre' (think Monk, Byard, Herbie Nichols) while remaining firmly in the hard bop groove.
A native of Denison, Texas (born on October 31, 1930), Ervin switched from trombone to tenor saxophone while in the Air Force (1950-1953). He made his recording debut with Ernie Field's band in 1956 and later gained his highest profile while a member of the Charles Mingus Quintet from 1956 to 1963, appearing on such classic recordings Mingus Ah Um, Blues and Roots and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus. Post-bop tenor sax connoisseurs are intimately acquainted with his series of 'Book' themed releases on the Prestige label from 1963-1964, including The Freedom Book, The Song Book, The Blues Book, and The Space Book. Ervin succumbed to cancer on July 31, 1970, just three months shy of his 40th birthday.
Written by Bill Milkowski