Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Keepin' Up with the Jones Brothers, 1958

The Leonard Feather-produced album Keepin' Up with the Joneses, cut in 1958 for MGM, is one of the most obscure dates by a quartet that called itself The Jones Brothers. In reality, only three of the four participants (trumpeter Thad Jones, pianist Hank Jones, and drummer Elvin Jones) were brothers; bassist Eddie Jones simply shared their last name, yet the idea of billing the band as brothers probably was a gimmick that came from Feather himself, which would perhaps explain the scarcity of information about the identity of the quartet members on the cover of the LP. The choice of material also seems to be mandated in part by yet another inside joke: as the cover reads, the band is "playing the music of Thad Jones and Isham Jones." While it makes sense that the date would include compositions by Thad Jones, who plays flugelhorn here, the three tunes by Isham Jones, a prominent songwriter and bandleader of the 1920s and '30s, were most likely chosen because of his last name. Of course, like Eddie Jones, Isham wasn't related to the three Jones brothers, but whatever the reason behind the choice, the three selections written by him (all of them included on side B) are dependable standards that are among the highlights of the album, in particular "It Had to Be You," which features a lengthy piano solo by Hank. "On the Alamo" is taken at an agreeable, easy-swinging tempo and, again, is clearly dominated by Hank's piano before Thad even gets a chance to play his muted flugelhorn part. Another memorable moment is the closer, "There Is No Greater Love," which becomes the perfect vehicle for an intimate musical dialogue between Thad and Hank.

Thad Jones wrote many of the tunes for this date
The rest of the tunes are all Thad Jones originals, and accordingly, Thad's flugelhorn is most often spotlighted, as in the album opener, "Nice and Nasty," a blues-tinged melody that lends itself easily to improvisation and even leaves some room for Eddie Jones to take a brief bass solo. "Keepin' Up with the Joneses" is based on a very catchy riff introduced by the trumpet and repeated by the piano. Both Thad and Hank have ample room to shine here, Hank showing his versatility by switching to organ halfway through the performance. "Three and One," whose title possibly makes reference to the fact that Eddie Jones isn't actually kin to the other three Jones boys, is a lovely mid-tempo number, and "Sput 'n' Jeff" features Thad's rather understated flugelhorn in contrast with Hank's quick, rippling piano runs. The brief dialogues between Elvin's unusually soft drumming and Eddie's noticeably quiet bass add freshness to the latter track. Though not always easy to locate, this forgotten session was reissued on CD back in 1999 and is particularly interesting and unique because the three Jones brothers didn't record together very often in the years following this date.

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