Strength and Sanity
“Man of Words”
Trumpeter Booker Little was just 23 when he died in 1961. His recorded output revealed a prodigiously talented instrumentalist and composer, and he went out with a bang with a couple of classic albums, Out Front and Booker Little and Friend, both recorded in the year of his death. Among the all-star ensembles on those recordings — including Eric Dolphy, Max Roach, Julian Priester and Ron Carter — was pianist Don Friedman, just a few years older than Little when he recorded these sessions. Recording for Newvelle’s season one more than 50 years later, Friedman revisited songs from those albums, bringing a lifetime of experience to these fresh interpretations of Little’s music. Friedman engaged his working trio with bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi for the project, titled Strength and Sanity after one of Little’s compositions that the group explores here. Another is the somewhat somber “Man of Words,” a track from Out Front that Little dedicated to jazz and social critic Nat Hentoff. Palombi begins the song with a stately bowed intro, which sets the tone. Friedman sprinkles notes like handfuls of stars into an inky night sky, counterbalancing the mournful weight of the bass and creating an aura of mystery and wonder that’s amplified by Takahashi’s cymbal splashes and mallet rumbles. The album serves as a reminder of Little’s brilliance as a composer, as well as testament to Friedman’s brilliance and soulfulness as a musician; the pianist died in 2016 at age 81.