Live at Newport ’58
The wonderful accessibility of pianist Horace Silver’s work sometimes leads critics to undervalue it, as if only music that requires knitted brows and grim concentration could possibly qualify as legitimate art. Live at Newport ’58 puts the lie to that theory in an enthralling way. This pristine presentation of a nearly 50-year-old show couldn’t sound any fresher or more vibrant if it had been recorded 50 seconds ago.
The CD exists due to something akin to pure chance – although good fortune is a more apt description. Producer Michael Cuscuna stumbled upon evidence of the lost Silver set in the Voice of America archives maintained by the Library of Congress, then located the master in a vault at Columbia Records, which had documented the entire Newport festival that year. The tape captured Silver’s quartet on the cusp of a transitional moment – trumpeter Blue Mitchell, whose casual funkiness distinguished memorable Silver albums such as 1962′s Tokyo Blues, would join the crew shortly thereafter.
Still, Louis Smith, the man with the horn in 1958, is no slouch. He’s more than matched by saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, drummer Louis Hayes, and Silver himself, who’s in typically superb form. The five-piece gets rolling on “Tippin’,” an obscure B-side blessed with a catchy opening figure and a finger-popping pace, and “The Outlaw,” which moves at a medium tempo that brings out the sinuousness in Cook’s playing and inspires a Silver solo marked by intermittently eccentric changes and deeply soulful grooves. The reading of the better-known “Señor Blues” is supple and sexy, while “Cool Eyes” evolves into a blowing session that’s loose, lively and thoroughly delightful. Art has seldom been so entertaining.
- Michael Roberts