Hurricane Nelson


Through his own records and television and film soundtracks and scores, saxophonist Oliver Nelson created a body of work acclaimed for craftily original compositions and thoughtful, dynamic arrangements that shaped rhythmic and melodic sculptures. But Nelson's Main Stem, recorded in 1961 for Prestige and part of Concord's digital catalog, features Nelson's alto and tenor blowing down the house with trumpet fastballer Joe Newman from the Basie band. I'd never heard Nelson scream and wail this way before.

Main Stem opens with Duke Ellington's title track and closes with "Tangerine," but the four middle tunes are Nelson's. "J&B" slowly cooks a full-bodied brew, heady and satisfying, from which Nelson's sax and Newman's trumpet drink long, refreshing draughts, and yet rocks hard and funky like "Night Train." Nelson's flow of ideas in "Ho!," blown with the hurricane force of King Curtis, sounds torrential and voluminous. Conguero Ray Barretto earns his keep with perfectly rhythmic percussion on "Latino," which opens up a skyway for Nelson's sax to soar like a Latin Bird. (That title track may be Ellington's, but it sure swings like Basie.)

Nelson has other great titles in Concord's catalog, such as his debut Meet Oliver Nelson with Kenny Dorham (OJC, 1993) and Screamin' The Blues with Eric Dolphy (RVG Remasters, 2006). Concord's catalog includes another "Main Stem" release: Vibesman Terry Gibbs uses this same Ellington tune for the title track to his 1961 live album Dream Band, Vol. 4: Main Stem (Contemporary, 2002).