Tommy Flanagan’s Super Jazz Trio: Condado Beach

The former Rollins and Coltrane pianist, said to have developed a style beyond style, is heard in trio in the mid-70s

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In 1978, after appearing for years as a sideman and also an accompanist to Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett, pianist Tommy Flanagan (1930-2001) formed his Super Jazz Trio, with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Joe Chambers.

This album was the group’s first release, but had only limited distribution in the United States. It was reissued there in 2009 with added material from Columbia LP compilations and a 1976 date with Jim Hall. By then he had already recorded with an impressive array of artists including Roy Haynes, Tommy Potter and Elvin Jones. He was also present on the Sonny Rollins album Saxophone Colossus and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

Flanagan’s piano style evolved from his early fascination with Art Tatum, Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson. But he gradually refined his playing into a more relaxed and intimate blend of swing and bop which attracted the attention of New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett, who wrote that around the mid-80s Flanagan “began to play with a delicacy and steadiness that infused everything – his ballads, his blues, and his up tempo numbers”. Balliett added that “He was continually refreshing, continually surprising.”

On these relatively early recordings, Flanagan hints at the evolution of these qualities in a diverse programme of original and better-known titles. Pent-Up House – a Sonny Rollins composition – has Flanagan in peak form, propelled by Chambers’ explosive contributions. Tommy idolised Rollins as someone who had “kept the tradition of the great tenor saxophones [Hawkins and Pres] from the past”.

He is particularly impressive on Chambers’ original Condado Beach, a take on Bud Powell’s So Sorry, Please, and on Monk’s rarely heard Let’s Call This. A special mention should be made of the duet with Jim Hall (My One And Only Love) and the five performances of Bud Powell originals (including So Sorry, Please) with the relatively unknown Keter Betts, especially a sprightly rendition of Strictly Confidential, a fast-moving Dance Of The Infidels and a second but shorter version of So Sorry, Please.

Perhaps the most succinct verdict on Flanagan was delivered by Gary Giddins who contended that the multi-talented pianist simply resisted classification. “His approach to the piano is as individual as his repertory. Like Jim Hall or Milt Jackson, he’s perfected a style beyond style, where the only appropriate comparisons are between his inspired performances and those that are merely characteristic.” These “rescued” recordings are welcome and instructive additions to his impressive canon.

Discography
(1) Pent-Up House; Condado Beach; Let’s Call This; So Sorry, Please; Ballad; Milestones; (2) Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Autumn Leaves; (3) My One And Only Love; (4) Strictly Confidential; Dance Of The Infidels; Bouncing With Bud; I’ll Keep Loving You; So Sorry, Please (77.29)
Flanagan (p) on all tracks with:
(1) Reggie Workman (b); Joe Chambers (d). New York, 21 November 1978.
(2) Jim Hall (g). New York, 22 June 1976.
(3) Keter Betts (b). New York, 3-5 November 1977.
Finger Poppin’ Records 117031