Before there was R&B funk as we know it, say, from James Brown and his soulful progeny on, there was funky jazz. And no one mated earthy blues tonality and copasetic rhythms with the harmonic and formal sophistication of modern jazz with more grace than Horace Silver. During his mid-1950s to late-’60s peak, this unique pianist and composer led airtight bands that offered the intricacies of hard-bop improvisation alongside a relentless groove. Each of his classic albums is a considered gem filled with memorable original tunes and superb ensemble interplay, brought to life by handpicked players. Thrown-together product just wasn?t part of Silver?s aesthetic. Which is why Live at Newport ’58 is such a find. Not only does it catch Silver?s quintet in peak form, tearing through a program of exceptional material (including the signature ?Senor Blues?); it also preserves a version of the band that never had a chance to formally record. The ringer was Louis Smith, a blistering and now, unfortunately, obscure trumpeter who left the band not long after the Newport show. Silver?s percussive piano work stokes Smith and saxophonist Jr. Cook while establishing a, well, funky foundation with the solid rhythm team of bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Louis Hayes. While tremendously popular in his time, Silver isn?t always immediately mentioned on the modern jazz A-list alongside Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and other giants. Newport ’58 provides yet more reasons to right that wrong. -
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.