Charlie Rouse / Red Rodney: Social Call

Chip O'Brien

Charlie Rouse / Red Rodney

Social Call

Label: Uptown
US Release Date: 2003-08-26
UK Release Date: Available as import

Name a jazz artist and Rouse either shared the stage, played a session date, or spent time with him or her on the road or in a band. Born in 1926, he played tenor saxophone in the early '40s with bands such as the Billy Eckstine Orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Rouse had a stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1949, but was forced to leave the band when he was unable to locate his birth certificate which he needed in order to get a passport for Europe. After that, he worked with everyone from Clifford Brown to Louis Jordan. It was not until 1959, however, that Charlie Rouse found a home in Thelonious Monk's band, where he spent the next decade making music that would ultimately be considered classic, ensuring his place in the great American jazz pantheon. In the early '70s, Rouse dropped out of the music scene to get his personal life together. Gradually, he returned to the jazz world, and by the late '70s had formed a band called Sphere, which brought Rouse well deserved recognition. He continued to make powerful records right up to his untimely death in 1988.

Born a year later, in 1927, Red Rodney's bio is peppered with much of the same. He cut his teeth on trumpet in the '40s with the Jerry Wald orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and several others. In the early '50s, having drawn heavily from the styles of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, Rodney played with Charlie Parker on and off for three years. Like Rouse, he acquired some bad habits along the way, and used heroin for close to two decades. His lifestyle led to run-ins with the law, incarceration, a deteriorating career, and finally, a stroke in 1972. Amazingly, he made a comeback and was eventually playing as well, if not better, than he had before. This album finds Rodney's playing as spirited and as succinct as ever. Rodney continued performing and recording until his death in 1994.

Recorded in 1984, Social Call is a muscular testimony from two survivors of the big band, bebop, cool, post-bop, hard-bop, acid jazz, and fusion eras. Both Rouse's and Rodney's performances are aggressive, at times playful, and, thankfully, tinged with the colors of rebellion and abandon so essential to this music. Neither musician was too old, too burnt out, or too soft by the time he made Social Call to leave out these elements, as so many jazz artists have done in their autumnal years, leaving their attempts at bop flat and emotionless, mere parodies of their earlier work.

"Little Chico", a Rouse composition, and the first track on the album, is yet another version of rhythm changes with an intricate bebop-esque head and a bridge lifted from one of Thelonious Monk's more popular tunes. Rouse and Rodney both blaze through their improvisations with such ingenuity and spontaneity that I was quite genuinely surprised and shaken out of whatever doldrums I'd been in before I hit Play on my CD player. Social Call maintains that pace and conviction right through to the end.

Honestly, the titles seem hardly worth mentioning here, because it's not about the songs. It's about the spontaneity. To those early boppers, the songs, the standards, were really nothing more than harmonic landscapes to explore. Rouse, Rodney, and a wonderful rhythm section, including Albert Dailey on piano, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Kenny Washington, explore these landscapes with abandon, rebelliousness, a touch of humor, and somehow, even with all that combined experience, with the eyes and ears of children. As listeners, we rejoice in their enthusiasm and excitement in the process of discovery.

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