John Handy: Recorded Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival

Modal settings at Monterey in 1965 expose the saxophonist to the temptation of verbosity, but a bonus 1967 NY date is perhaps more satisfying


Texan altoist John Handy had already appeared at Monterey in 1964 with the Charles Mingus band before returning a year later with his own quintet under the aegis of critic Ralph J. Gleason, who’d been excited by it at a San Francisco club. Handy had made his name in that city, and was known there and on the West Coast before the rest of the US had noticed him. But the time between those two festival dates is now less significant than the six years that separate them from 1959, when John Coltrane and Miles Davis had begun to play modal jazz.

A point often forgotten about those Davis-Coltrane ventures is that they featured modalism’s immediate and pre-eminent exponents. Half a decade later, they and their simulacra were opening up all the fault lines, especially modal’s tendency to encourage excess.

Monterey 1965 was given two original charts by Handy: If Only We Knew (three minutes short of half an hour in length), and Spanish Lady (almost 20 minutes). Handy received Grammy nominations for both. With hindsight, the first amounts to little but a string of solos from Handy, bassist Don Thompson, guitarist Jerry Hahn and violinist Mike White, with drummer Terry Clarke clearly and incipiently on the boil from the start before crescendo meets climax with Handy’s return and everything descends to the opening alto sax-violin theme.

Spanish Lady is mostly a frantic 6/8 gallop across the Iberian plains, following a febrile alto introduction, the usual lengthy solos and some heavy guitar riffing, the whole bringing Handy’s gladiatorial Mingus antecedents to mind, with Clarke’s drums again in storm-creation mode. White’s violin solo sounds untamed against a manic background. Thompson, working away behind the scenes, is someone obliged to give ground.

At over half an hour, the “bonus” track of Tears Of Ole Miss (Anatomy Of A Riot) is barely a makeweight; but two years on from Monterey it’s a different atmosphere, a different quintet, and – over 50 years on – maybe a more considerable proposition.

(1) If Only We Knew; Spanish Lady; (2) Tears Of Ole Miss (Anatomy Of A Riot) (78.11)
(1) Handy (as); Mike White (vn); Jerry Hahn (g); Don Thompson (b); Terry Clarke (d). Monterey, 18 September 1965.
(2) Handy; Bobby Hutcherson (vib); Pat Martino (g); Albert Stinson (b); Doug Sides (d). New York, 28 June 1967.
Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55754