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  • Jonathan Widran

CLIFFORD JORDAN, Drink Plenty Water

The emergence of legendary saxophonists Clifford Jordan’s fascinating and socially conscious, nearly five decades on the shelf recording Drink Plenty Water prompted a deeper exploration of the extensive discography of the late, influential saxophonist, who passed away 30 years ago at only 61. From 1957 through 1991, he released roughly 35 combined studio and live albums and appeared on recordings by other jazz legends of his time, including Art Farmer, Charles Mingus Lee Morgan and Cedar Walton.

The opening track on Drink Plenty Water, “The Highest Mountain” – which gets the collection off to a rousing start with a soaring, choir driven version – has been recorded by T.S. Monk, John Marshall and Hugh Lawson, among others. In his brief section of the extensive, illuminating liner notes by participants in the August 1974 session, veteran trumpeter and founder of Jordan’s then-label Strata-East Charles Tolliver – who mixed and mastered the current release – seems grateful that Jordan’s widow Sandy uncovered this lost session.


Yet he makes no mention of why the label didn’t release it back in the day. Sometimes these things happen, but we can speculate that it was a commercial decision at the time, being recorded after two other Strata-East releases and before his switch to Muse Records and then SteepleChase. Or it could be because as expectedly exciting as the musicianship is by Jordan and the likes of pianist Stanley Cowell, trombonist Dick Griffin and cellist Bernard Fennell (whose darkly hypnotic, unadorned duet with Jordan at the start of “Drink Plenty Water and Walk Slow” is a highlight), there are a lot of sung vocals and spoken word passages that, while compelling in their own right, somewhat distract from the dynamic playing of Jordan and his ensemble - and the overall musical part of the presentation.


Fortunately, the second track set includes both spoken word and purely musical versions of “Talking Blues,” so listeners can decide which they enjoy better – the one featuring a narrative of a fast-living hustler (featuring David Smyri’s streetwise voice) or a version which showcases Jordan and crew in all their artful, improvisational glory. Whatever one’s take on the vocals, or possible reasons for this one to remain in a vault for decades, it’s still an important piece of jazz history that will inspire Jordan fans from back in the day to revisit the icon’s work and maybe earn him a few fans who grew up in the decades since his passing.

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