Hard Bop Heaven: Oliver Nelson - "The Blues And The Abstract Truth"

Oliver Nelson • The Blues And The Abstract Truth • 1961 • Impulse! Records
Recorded February 23, 1961 at Rudy Van Gelder Studios

The Selection:

The Tracks:

A1. Stolen Moments
A2. Hoe-Down
A3. Cascades
B1. Yearnin'
B2. Butch and Butch
B3. Teenie's Blues

The Players:

Oliver Nelson - Alto & Tenor Sax
Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet
Eric Dolphy - Alto Sax, Flute
George Barrow - Baritone Sax
Bill Evans - Piano
Paul Chambers - Bass
Roy Haynes - Drums

The Record:

A stone cold hard bop classic and a true all-star affair, The Blues And The Abstract Truth finds Oliver Nelson leading a group of some of the most talented and progressive jazz musicians playing in the early 1960s. Nelson composed and arranged the tracks on the album, and did so in a fashion that just about summed up the essence of the hard bop sound that had been building momentum since the mid-1950s. 

Oliver Nelson Photo By Jan Persson.

All of the musicians are towering names in modern jazz, with the exception of George Barrow on the baritone saxophone, who doesn't have any solos and therefore doesn't get top billing on the album cover, but who probably should have as his playing is essential to the final sound and texture of the record (Nelson realized this and gives him an extra mention at the conclusion of the liner notes). Hubbard is the real standout here, these are some of the finest solos he ever laid down on record, but Dolphy is obviously no slouch and he shines aplenty, as does Bill Evans who at this point in his career could seemingly do no wrong. Nelson's underrated tenor playing is bold and full, and while after this record he was regarded more for his composition and arrangement skills, he more than holds his own with the more well known brass players. Paul Chambers and Roy Haynes round out the rhythm section and must have been a joy to play with, they anchor the recording with a skill and grace that allows the front line musicians the ability to shape this wonderful music where Nelson's arrangements intended it to go.

There is not a weak track among the six on the album, every song brings a freshness and originality that still astounds today. Nelson was quite obviously influenced by the sound Miles Davis had going in the late 1950's, the two most highly regarded tracks from The Blues And The Abstract Truth are "Stolen Moments" and "Yearnin'" both of which bear a more than passing resemblance to the some of the stylings Davis employed on Kind Of Blue and Somethin' Else (an album credited to Cannonball Adderley, but Davis contributed immensely to it, and probably would have been credited at least as co-leader if not for his contract with Columbia). And who is the one musician that all three of these albums have in common? Yep, that would be Bill Evans, a man who doesn't get nearly enough credit for his massive influence in the modern jazz world of the late '50s and early '60s. It probably wasn't by chance that Nelson invited Evans to these sessions, his fellow musicians knew that he had something special going on in those fingers of his.

The Vinyl:

Another original Impulse! pressing to add to the collection, with the fantastic orange and black label with the Impulse! name printed four times around the outside. As it dates from 1961 it has the "A PRODUCT OF AM-PAR RECORD CORP" along the bottom of the label. My copy is not in the best condition, even after a nice deep cleaning there is still noticeable surface noise and a bit of distortion when all the horns play at once. But a deep cleaning did bring the flaws down to an acceptable level that doesn't interfere with the musical enjoyment. This being on an original mono Impulse!, the sound is glorious and full of a depth that can only be found on vintage LPs.

The glossy gatefold cover is the second "non-abstract" version that credits the album solely to Oliver Nelson and not to all the players involved, as the first edition did. I can't find any definitive reason why the original cover was quickly replaced with the new one, my educated guess is that either Impulse! was waiting to clear contractual hurdles to name Nelson as the leader of the sessions, or (if one is more cynical) they didn't want to pay royalties to six musicians when they could whittle that down to only one. My cover is pretty beat up around the corners, but the front cover artwork is still intact which is the most important part to me. Some folks will only consider the first cover as a true "original" but to me it's the same label on the LP inside (maybe even from the same first pressing run) only with the second cover that quickly appeared after the first one. Not a "first edition" perhaps, but still an original copy in my eyes. Considering I only paid a mere $5 for the LP, I am extremely happy to finally own a copy of one of my all-time favorite jazz albums on vinyl (I have no conceivable idea why it was priced so low even in it's less than great condition, but who am I to argue?).

This was the fifth release on Impulse! - preceeding Coltrane's debut on the label Africa/Brass by a couple of months - and must have had the jazz world take extra notice of this new label that claimed they were the purveyors of "the new wave in jazz". The blueprint Nelson laid down on The Blues And The Abstract Truth would be followed by countless musicians throughout the years and its influence resonates throughout the jazz world even today.