PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Oliver Nelson: Screamin' the Blues

This seminal Oliver Nelson session often sounds like a conversation amongst the cutting edge, celebrating the past whilst pointing toward the future.

Oliver Nelson

Screamin' the Blues

Label: Prestige
US Release Date: 2006-07-18
UK Release Date: 2006-08-28

This welcome installment in the Rudy Van Gelder Remasters series is essential for at least two reasons. First, it proves that Oliver Nelson should not be remembered only for what is inarguably his masterpiece, The Blues and the Abstract Truth . Second, it features a young and typically tenacious Eric Dolphy, who acquits himself wonderfully, as always.

Ironies abound on this album, beginning with its title: Oliver Nelson is quite rightly revered for his mastery of the blues form, but it was his sensitive and intelligent renderings that tended to use the blues as a springboard for his fertile mind and considerable arranging skills. A screamer he was not. Indeed, it is interesting -- and instructive -- to consider that only one year before The Blues and the Abstract Truth (henceforth TBATAT), which is hailed as the epitome of smooth (from an era, difficult as it is to conceive, when the word "smooth" could be used in a complimentary fashion while describing jazz), Nelson brought together a band that would record this down and dirty old(er) school session. It is not the all-star lineup of TBATAT (what else could be?), but this group is tight and very much on time, with the estimable Roy Haynes on drums and the still underrated George Duvivier on bass. The wildcards are Richard Wyands and Richard Williams, on piano and trumpet respectively. And, of course, Dolphy.

The tone is set immediately and authoritatively, with the group tearing into the eleven-minute title track, a vehicle that offers ample evidence of Nelson's songwriting craft. But as is the case throughout these proceedings, the inescapable focus is on the fact that he could blow the roof off when he wanted to. Haynes and Duvivier hold down the fort, allowing Wyands to stretch out with a Bobby Timmins-esque solo (indeed, the influence of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers subtly pervades the proceedings). Then Nelson reenters with that shimmering, supple tone, giving way to Williams, who takes an enervated turn at the pulpit. And then, six minutes in, the guest preacher, Reverend Dolphy, blasts a bass clarinet sermon that interprets tradition in his inimitable way, all the while edging ever outward, moving into more free and formless -- but always intelligible and accessible -- territory.

An air of restrained celebration, of cerebral abandon, is maintained throughout, and it's only on the stirring "Three Seconds" that we hear the obvious blueprint for the immaculate orchestration of unique voices that elevate TBATAT. And for anyone who has ever struggled to explain the wonders of jazz to a potential fan, cue up "The Meetin'" and if that doesn't do the trick, it's doubtful anything will. This is cool, classy stuff, a tad looser, a bit ballsier and a little more edgy than the work Nelson is mostly remembered for. Where one may envision TBATAT being recorded in a clean studio with pros in suits punching the clock, Screamin' The Blues has the vibe of a smoke-filled, windowless room.

A few more words about Dolphy: with all due respect to the demonstrable talents and leadership of Nelson, Eric Dolphy is always going to stand apart as the superstar of any recording in which he is involved. Listening to him on this set is not unlike revisiting the watershed work of John Coltrane, circa 1957, specifically on Lush Life and Soultrane, where he fortified his celebrated "sheets of sound", and knowing how that would evolve into his modal work with Miles Davis, then Giant Steps, and then the door to infinity he cracked open after that. Likewise, Dolphy is exhibiting his fluency of the hard-bop stylings that signified the better jazz from the mid-to-late '50’s: his alto work in "Alto-itis" nods to Charlie Parker yet exudes an openness that, say, Ornette Coleman could not approximate. He is already straining at the reins of convention, already figuring out, like Coltrane and, of course, Thelonious Monk, his way around the brilliant corners that lead to real innovation. It is no coincidence that in the years after this recording, Dolphy would align himself with both Coltrane and Charles Mingus, while continuing to push the envelope that eventually resulted in his own masterpiece, Out to Lunch. The interplay and overtones of true originality beginning to boil on Screamin' The Blues are very much a premonition of even bigger and better things to come, but this album utterly succeeds as a collection of cats, in the back of the church, conversing about the past while pointing toward the future.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.