Sonny Clark ‘Leapin’ and Lopin’ (Blue Note) 5/5

Sonny Clark was a pianist who recorded almost exclusively for Blue Note and typified the superior late 1950s bop on the classic ‘Cool Struttin’ as well as performing as sideman on Jackie McLean’s ‘A Fickle Sonance’, Dexter Gordon’s ‘Go’ and Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Jubilee Shout’. By the early 1960s he was fighting a drug addiction that would take his life in January 1963. In 1961, however, when this album was made, Sonny was on top form and surrounded by an enviable line up of the cream of Blue Note studio musicians including Billy Higgins on drums, Charlie Rouse on tenor and Tommy Turrentine (brother of Stanley) on trumpet. The opener ‘Somethin’ special’ is a blues-inflected piece with melodic solo from Rouse and the clear lyricism of Turrentine. Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s modal explorations were in the early 1960s being digested by the jazz community and ‘Melody for C’ is a fine example of this.
In contrast ‘Midnight Mambo’ pays homage to the big band Latin sound of Machito and Tito Puente and illustrates how easily jazz could incorporate Afro-Cuban rhythms. Ike Quebec guests on the ballad ‘Deep in a dream’ and as ever it is the economy of style that impresses one with the tenor’s playing. Sonny Clark was an underrated pianist whose main influences were Bud Powell and Horace Silver in the evolution of bop and the soulful licks of the blues, but who by the early 1960s had a clearly individual style. It is a tragedy that he was unable to experience some of the innovations that took place in jazz from the mid-1960s onwards. 
Tim Stenhouse

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