Lou Donaldson ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

If anyone personified the mid-late 1950s Blue Note sound, then alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson would surely be a prime candidate. His laid back style that effortlessly took on board blues, bop and Latin flavours proved irresistible and endeared him to a wider public, especially those that might have heard his 45s on the jukeboxes of the day.

This value for money four LPs on two CDs does not break any new ground, and most are available elsewhere, but collectively they add up to a representative portrait of Donaldson between 1957 and 1961, and in a variety of guises. As ever with Avid re-issues, the original vinyl notes plus full discographical details make for unbeatable offerings and the music is certainly up to scratch.

If any album was definitive Lou Donaldson then ‘Blues Walk’ would probably beat the rest and the relaxed blues feel allied with a Latin undercurrent courtesy of percussionist Ray Barretto permeates the entire album. The title track makes for essential listening and testimony to Donaldson’s own compositional talents. Three of the five pieces are originals with ‘Play Ray’ and ‘Callin’ All Cats’ the perfect jazz to achieve hipsterdom. Three years later, ‘Gravy Train’ would take the Latin and blues influences a step further, with Alec Dorsey on congas this time round and a stunning take on ‘South Of The Border’, which became a hit on the dance floors again in the mid-1980s when it was re-issued on the first of the ‘Blue Bossa’ compilations. Nothing quite tops that number but ‘Avalon’ and ‘Candy’ are fine melodic numbers.

The second CD goes back to the bop era with the 1957 album, ‘Takes’ Off’ featuring an extended brass section of Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd, with Donaldson rediscovering his love of Charlie Parker on a cover of ‘Dewey Square’. Trumpeter Byrd is in inspired form and blows hard on Gillespie’s ‘Groovin’ High’, while pianist Sonny Clark plays a largely supportive role. For the beginnings of the funkier side of Donaldson the 1961 album ‘Here ‘Tis’ impresses with ‘Baby Face’ Willette on Hammond organ and Grant Green on guitar. A relaxed take on ‘A Foggy Day’ contrasts with the mid-tempo groove of ‘Watusi’. The original title track has that timeless quality that one always associates with Lou Donaldson’s early period output. Nothing revolutionary, but tasty sounding music all the same,

For a later and altogether funkier pairing of Blue Note albums, why not consider the following for a future re-issue together: ‘Alligator Boogaloo’/’Everything I Play Is Funky’/ ‘Hot Dog’/ ‘Say It Loud!’.

Tim Stenhouse