Jazz Review: Stanley Turrentine Plays Smile, Stacey

September 21, 2018

Stanley Turrentine is today's lucky winner of a jazz review. He deserves a review - his career is marked by explorations into multiple jazz genres, generally ranging from hard bop to the jazzy edges of jazz fusion, but whatever Turrentine played, the blues influence was always around. 


Stanley Turrentine was just one example of what politicians would call "reaching across the aisle": he, like several other jazz musicians, was able to go outside of jazz's ordinary boundaries and either make successful records or win more people to jazz. Although some jazz musicians would probably consider Turrentine's later recordings to be "giving into trends", they were actually the best way to give into trends - combining elements of the day's popular music with the most important elements of jazz. 


​​As a tenor saxophonist, Turrentine can be classified with Plas Johnson and, on some recordings, with Hank Mobley and Gene Ammons. These musicians often dived straight into the blues world when they recorded, even when many others in the jazz field were experimenting with free jazz and anything but blues. Even Michael Brecker, who at times escaped the rock-like ​​drum rhythms and recorded music that had passed the fashions by the time he was around, was not quite able to get the blues anchor in his phrases like Mobley, Ammons, Johnson, and Turrentine. The interesting thing about Stanley Turrentine, however, is his sound: it's not quite as big as you'd expect for a blues player. While this meant he could not get the power that some saxophonists could, and therefore did not always suit his style so well, he tailored his phrasing so much to fit his sound that he managed to fit his smaller sound and blues phrasing into one, like-able style that gives Turrentine his own voice on the jazz scene. 


A good recording that combines many elements of Turrentine's playing is "Smile, Stacey", an extended Turrentine quartet piece that's classic Blue Note because it is really a quintet - there are four musicians and a sound engineer, Rudy Van Gelder: Rudy Van Gelder not only makes the sound quality itself good but uses the combination of the music style and sound engineering to make this clearly a Blue Note recording. 


This is the version of "Smile, Stacey" that is described in this jazz review; to view on YouTube, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH1NYHz6CYs.


This recording is definitely on the bebopish end of Turrentine's work, but the phrases he plays are still his own. He's of course the first of the tune's soloists, and he gets things more than going with swinging hard bop and more than a slight touch of blues. His solo is more than three minutes long, and includes many of the standard Turrentine phrases; however, plenty of moments throughout show similarities to other musicians' styles of the time, like in particular Hank Mobley. 


After this long solo, pianist Les McCann takes over. On this recording, McCann asserts himself as one of the great jazz pianists of the era, incorporating plenty of Bobby Timmons-style phrasing while maintaining a variety of influences. 


While this recording may have seemed just another Blue Note recording when it was recorded in the 1960s, Turrentine's successful career in later years puts some light onto this work. This Turrentine album has a five-star Allmusic rating, and we can hope it will continue to get recognition along with the many other great recordings of the time. 




For Allmusic album info, see https://www.allmusic.com/album/thats-where-its-at-mw0000652590

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