The History of the Albums – n°238
If you want to listen to or build up an ideal jazz discography without necessarily confining yourself to the classics and popular works, this episode is for you. Here is once again an album and a jazzman that only specialists and connoisseurs know, yet one that deserves your attention, because yes, Booker Ervin's 1964 album The Freedom Book is a real buried treasure. Let's take the shovels to dig it up. First of all, who is Booker Ervin? He is a very talented Hard Bop/Post-Bop tenor saxophonist and composer despite his lack of recognition. He worked from the end of the 50's and during the whole decade of the 60's before disappearing prematurely in 1970, at the age of 39 because of a kidney disease. If you know him by name, you may have known him without knowing it for his work as a sideman for the legendary Charles Mingus or his famous composition Mojo.
Born in 1930 in Texas, Booker Ervin learned music from his father, himself a musician, but it was only after his military service that he began to play his favorite instrument, the tenor saxphone. His vocation has always been music, that's why he entered a music school before launching his career in an orchestra when he was 24 years old. A rather late introduction which can be explained by the fact that he only moved to New York in 1958, 4 years after starting his career. What history has taught us is that it was difficult at the time, and even today, to make a career move when you're not in the big cities. He quickly ended up being noticed thanks to his performances in clubs and bars by Charles Mingus who hired him in his band. What better way to start? It is in 1959 that he records for the first time within the group of Mingus, before being part of the castings of the masterpieces Mingus Ah Um, Blues & Roots or Oh Yeah! Having learned a lot from Mingus, Booker Ervin started as a leader in parallel in 1960, alternating between several labels due to lack of recognition. The following year he released the album That's It which includes his famous composition Mojo, which allowed him to be noticed by Prestige, where he will stay a few years.
A few months before leaving for Europe, Booker Ervin enters the studio one day in December 1963 to record his album The Freedom Book, which clearly remains his personal consecration, the album comes to fruition, the only one you really have to have if you can only make a choice. Accompanied by Post-Bop/Avant-Garde Jazz musicians little known as pianist Jaki Byard whom he met in the Mingus band, bassist Richard Davis known for his work with Eric Dolphy and drummer Alan Dawson, Booker Ervin delivers his own compositions with the exception of one composed by Randy Weston whom he had an admiration for (they collaborated on several occasions). The Freedom Book is a demonstration of class, harmony and improvisation marked by an impressive rhythm. From the introduction A Lunar Tune, you are propelled at full speed into a frantic race, so stimulating that it becomes addictive. Throughout The Freedom Book there is a peaceful duel between Ervin and pianist Byard, as if they were responding to each other with lightning bolts, while complementing each other perfectly. However, this work is not only a race of who goes fastest, when it goes fast it's remarkably technical, but there are also many moments, from one track to the other where Booker Ervin slows down the pace to move on to something more bluesy, thus taking the pressure off. That's why I would call The Freedom Book a Post-Bop hybrid album, witnessing a diversity without ever losing its uniqueness. To conclude, this album until the end, as the different solos of Al's In show us, never really loses in intensity, it touches the sensitive points whatever the form and style of the composition.