John Handy - alto saxophone; Pat Martino - guitar; Bobby Hutcherson - vibraphone; Albert Stinson - bass; Douglas Sides - drums
An influential and adventurous alto saxophonist who played on a string of important Charles Mingus recordings in 1959 (Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Dynasty) before launching a solo career, John Handy came to Newport in 1967 with a stellar band that featured the progressive post-bop vibraphonist and Blue Note recording artist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Albert Stinson, drummer Douglas Sides, and a young guitar killer from Philadelphia named Pat Martino (21 years old at the time and just months away from his own recording debut as a leader for Prestige). Their July 1st festival appearance came just three days after completing a live recording at the Village Gate in the heart of Greenwich Village (New View on Columbia Records).
Handy's quintet opens their Saturday evening set with the epic "Tears of Ole Miss (Anatomy of a Riot)," a bluesy meditation which, as Handy explains, "attempts to dramatize musically what it took to get James Meredith into the University of Mississippi." At over 25 minutes, this lengthy work is a good introduction to the quintet, showcasing its tight ensemble work as well as their more adventurous excursions into the free zone. Following an impassioned solo by the leader, Hutcherson unleashes with a flurry on his vibes, injecting some dazzle and light into the somber proceedings. Martino contributes a warm-toned cascade of odd intervallic leaps picked with uncanny precision and conviction while drummer Sides rolls polyrhythmically over the barline. Martino's deft use of octaves and chord melody playing near the end of his solo shows the young guitarist's reverence for Wes Montgomery. At roughly the 10:30 mark, things begin to change radically as the piece opens up to some freewheeling collective improvisation that deconstructs the form. By the 12-minute mark, drummer Sides goes into a military cadence on his snare while Handy intones passages from "Dixie," adding a politically-charged quotient to the piece. And by the 12:30 mark they're back into an urgent, uptempo swing groove that has Handy wailing over the top with boppish authority. Hutcherson's stellar vibes solo brings the first part of this provocative piece to a calming conclusion. "Part 2" drifts into more of a performance art vein as Handy and others erupt in sudden screams, whistle blasts, and unexpected colors and textures over the hard-driving pulse. Martino's solo here is especially superb as he again invokes Wes in the context of his aggressive fretboard fusillades. Sides' explosive drum solo adds tension and dynamics to this thought-provoking piece suite, which resolves to a somber, dirge-like motif.
Handy's crew closes its Newport set with the flamenco flavored "Senora Nancy," which would later appear on the saxophonist's 1968 album, Projections. It kicks off with a stirring, unaccompanied intro by the leader before the band jumps on the minor key Spanish-tinged vamp like a jet taking off, fueled by Sides' kinetic drumming and with Handy's frantic alto sax leading the way. Hutcherson follows with a shimmering, harmonically adventurous vibes solo as Handy picks up a tambourine and bangs polyrhythmically behind him. Inexplicably, the piece fades before his solo ends or indeed before the piece comes to a conclusion. But in 9:47, we get yet another example of just how telepathically linked and ahead of its time this adventurous quintet was.
The Texas-born saxophonist (February 3, 1933) started playing alto at age 16. At age 25, he moved to New York City, where he began working with renowned bassist-bandleader Charles Mingus. Handy led a succession of bands from 1959 to 1964, the year he reunited with Mingus at the Monterey Jazz Festival. His performance at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival with his adventurous quintet featuring violinist Michael White, guitarist Jerry Hahn, bassist Don Thompson, and drummer Terry Clarke, was recorded and released by Columbia Records in 1967. Handy followed with three acclaimed Columbia album—The 2nd John Handy Album, New View, and Projections). He subsequently pioneered the fusing of jazz and classical Indian music on 1975's fairly obscure Karuna Supreme, (on the MPS label), which featured sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and Shakti's Zakir Hussain on tablas. He scored a surprise success the following year with Hard Work (on Impulse Records), which also featured Hussain on tablas, and followed up in 1977 with the less successful Carnival, featuring guitarists Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton. Handy continued to record through the '80s and '90s for a number of labels both as a leader and as a sideman. His most recent recording was 1995's Live at Yoshi's Nightspot, a 28-year reunion of his quintet with violinist White, guitarist Hahn, bassist Thompson, and drummer Clarke (originally released on the German Boulevard label and later licensed in the States in 2000 on Louisiana Red Hot Records). He has maintained a low profile in recent years, teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Milkowski)