The Philly Joe Jones Quintet: Philly Joe’s Beat

Reissue of the drum master's 1960 album, paired with five tracks from Birdland in 1961, reminds of the talent of unsung cornetist Mike Downs


Philly Joe Jones became famously known for his association with Miles Davis from 1955 to 1958, recording classics sides for Prestige and Columbia and his value was recognised in Miles’ autobiography: “Philly Joe was the fire that was making a lot of shit happen – he knew everything I was going to do.”

Held in high regard, he recorded extensively, and this Fresh Sound release pairs his 1960 Atlantic album with an unissued live session from Birdland the following year (see Gordon Jack’s recent review of Philly Joe Jones Sextet & Quintet: Live At Birdland for others).

Right from the off, Salt Peanuts indicates the group’s approach – high octane stuff, fast and relentlessly propulsive. Jones directs proceedings, powerful and assertive, shifting emphases, volume and momentum with all the musicians having opportunities to solo.

An attractive arrangement of Dear Old Stockholm is played with greater urgency than usual. Pianist Walter Davis Jr. keeps it grounded whilst Paul Chambers (an associate of Jones in Miles’ band) solos unobtrusively, more in keeping with other renditions. This contrasts sharply with the abrupt horn break by Mike Downs, matched by that of Bill Barron.

The accomplished and underrated Barron had recently played with Cecil Taylor’s group and his adventurous spirit shines through, solo excursions sometimes reminiscent of Booker Ervin. But it’s the little-known Downs who grabs the attention. A player in the Clifford Brown mould, Jones had heard him play on the West Coast, with Virgil Gonsalves’ band. He is clear, accurate and inventive, and just as impressive when muted (on Lori and Got To Take Another Chance).

The five live tracks are introduced by the ubiquitous Symphony Sid. Here, Barron is harder edged, more abrasive; Davis more challengingly abstract, to the point of near abandon in parts of Max Is Making Wax and Salt Peanuts. Tantalisingly, Sid announces that Coltrane has walked in, carrying his soprano and suggests he sits in. He doesn’t and isn’t needed, as Jones leads with machine-gun rapidity. A terrific release.

For a personal appreciation of Philly Joe, Spike Wells’ 2019 tribute is well worth a read.

(1) Salt Peanuts; Muse Rapture; Dear Old Stockholm; Two Bass Hit; Lori; Got To Take Another Chance; That’s Earl Brother; (2) Two Bass Hit; Max Is Making Wax; Bebe; Salt Peanuts; The Theme (Blue ’n’ Boogie) (65.32)
Philly Joe Jones (d) with:
(1) Mike Downs (c); Bill Barron (ts); Walter Davis Jr. (p); Paul Chambers (b). NYC, 20 May 1960.
(2) as above but Spanky DeBrest (b) replaces Chambers; Symphony Sid Torin (ann). Birdland, NYC, 18 March 1961.
Fresh Sound Records FSR-CD1142