A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #46 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Booker Ervin is more famous for his stints with Charles Mingus than with his own bands. On albums like Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus and Blues & Roots his big muscular sounding tenor sax keeps up with fiery altoists like Eric Dolphy and Jackie McLean. On the under appreciated live recording Mingus in Wonderland he trades licks with altoist John Handy to such effect that you can almost forget about Mingus himself. But for whatever reason his solo work never caught on. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t fall into any easy category—neither a staunch avant-gardist, nor a bop-traditionalist. But if you neglect Ervin’s recordings as a leader you’re missing some of the best tenor saxophone of the 60’s.
Structurally Sound from 1966 features extremely talented musicians who, like Ervin, never exactly got to star status. There’s Charles Tolliver on trumpet, John Hicks on piano, Red Mitchell on bass, and Lenny McBrowne on drums. It’s an experienced group that between them had worked with everyone from Della Reese to Ornette Coleman. “Boo’s Blues” is the only song on the album composed by Ervin himself. The liner notes claim the tune is meant to reflect the personality of his six year old son. If that’s the case he must have been a bright, rambunctious little man. The song kicks off with a few measures of bouncy blues piano then straight into a catchy, propulsive chorus. Booker takes the first solo and it’s a doozy. Wild without ever loosing its grasp on melody, loud without ever losing control, passionately played but thoughtful too—I’m sure it’s a fitting tribute to his son. In the piano solo that follows John Hinks’ right hand takes an exuberant blues solo while his left drops in waves of complicated chords that add some atmosphere. Next, we get the talky, voice-like quality of Red Mitchell’s bass solo, which comes across as clever and humorous. There’s a quick second solo by Ervin, a roiling drum break, a far too short solo from Tolliver’s trumpet, a repeat of the chorus and we’re done. To my ears it’s easily the highlight of this particular album and, despite the fact that the final couple solos seem a bit rushed, it would fit right in alongside Ervin’s best work with Mingus.
Review by Matthew