Elvin Jones,
Heavy Sounds
(Impulse, 1968)

Rising to renown as John Coltrane's drummer in the early '60s, Elvin Jones was just as instrumental as Coltrane in shattering jazz conventions and altering the musical landscape for decades to come.

As Coltrane destroyed notions of melodic improvisation by soloing around chords rather than melodies, and eventually soloing with no anchors at all, so Jones dismantled traditional concepts of rhythm.

Jones underpinned classic Coltrane albums like My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme with his unique polyrhythmic style, which forever changed the way we listen to jazz. It also won him the respect of (and comparisons to) such rock drummers as Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker.

In 1968, he teamed up with bassist Richard Davis to record Heavy Sounds, a dark, difficult album that contains heaps of rhythmic experimentation.

Though they're joined by Billy Green on piano and Frank Foster on tenor sax, Jones and Davis dominate the proceedings. And how could it be otherwise? Even on lighter songs, like the eminently hummable "Raunchy Rita," Davis' dark rhythms are flawless, and Jones stalks around the beat like a panther in the long grass of the Savannah, crouching back to build tension, then pouncing and retreating in a split-second.

The Latin-tinged "Raunchy Rita" is one of many highlights here, featuring Foster's bluesy sax, a dazzling solo from Davis and a bass melody that'll lodge in your brain for weeks. The brief "M.E." also stands out, sounding a whole lot like Thelonius Monk with its quirky, unison sax-and-piano lines.

But the jaw-dropper here is an 11-minute version of Gershwin's "Summertime," played dead slow as a bass-and-drums duet. It comes across like a funeral dirge -- and it's mesmerizing.

The surprise of it isn't that it's a radical reinterpretation -- one expects avant-garde guys like Jones and Davis to take the thing apart -- but that it's done so slowly and carefully, like peeling an onion, rather than squashing a tomato.

The end result is the same -- the song lies in shreds, waiting to be reassembled anew -- but the process is slow and fascinating, not explosive. I can't imagine a darker take on this classic, with Davis' bowed introduction of the melody shattering into a creepy, disconcerting screech less than a minute later, and Jones punctuating the piece with deep rolls and discordant crashes.

Despite this album's numerous instances of beauty and accessibility, it still ends up being a pretty harrowing ride -- but one well worth taking. Heavy sounds, indeed.

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]