CANNONBALL ADDERLEY — African Waltz (review)

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY — African Waltz album cover Album · 1961 · Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
After releasing his critically acclaimed and most popular albums of his career with such classics as “Something Else” on the Blue Note label, CANNONBALL ADDERLEY spent many years after pumping out album after album with totally new lineups with many of them including AFRICAN WALTZ ending up on the Riverside label. This album is completely different than ADDERLEY’s other albums which fall on the hard bop side of jazz. For AFRICAN WALTZ he has no less than 22 musicians on board including five trumpet players, four on trombone as well as other lesser used musical timbres such as bass trombone, tuba and of course ADDERLEY’s signature alto sax sound. This big band sound comes across as brash and bold with every track being carefully crafted for a full-on larger than life experience.

The album was built around the title track which was actually a surprise hit single in the UK for Johnny Dankworth. The huge big band experience was orchestrated by Ernie Wilkins, best known for his work with Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Dizzy Gillespie and the well seasoned approach to taming the large musical beast shines through as everything is perfectly executed. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer also contributed the arrangements of two tracks. While this is a big band album through and through, this was the early 60s and there is plenty of evidence of the milestones in jazz that had recently come into play. The hard bop still finds its way into the musical compositions with several bass lines lifted right out of the 50s bop scene. The modal jazz set forth by Miles Davis shines through as well.

Since the eleven tracks on board are short with none venturing over the five minute mark, they hit hard and offer a quick and to-the-point approach that focuses most of all on the melodic development and like much in the big band world of jazz don’t rely on improvisation as much as other types of the genre. The only rip roaring solos found on this one are by ADDERLEY, his brother Nat Adderley on cornet with some lesser roles by pianist Wynton Kelly. The album has a hardcore exotica feel to it as well. It sounds like a 60s movie soundtrack of some sort and despite the title really evokes nothing AFRICAN at all in mood or musical texture.

While this album delivers some extremely strong well played pieces with a unique albeit bloated lineup, to my ears it sounds extremely powerful and confident and as far as early 60s jazz goes, quite catchy without ever entering syrupy ballad territory. It captures all the best aspects of big band jazz but offers the wild swinging tapestry of instruments so common in hard bop and more improvisational types of jazz. While AFRICAN WALTZ failed to inspire the fans at the time and has since been relegated to the bottom of the pile of ADDERLEY releases, i find this to be an exciting and exhilarating big band jazz experience with every track delivering high quality performances. Woefully underrated in most jazz circles.
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