Give me some music — music, moody food of us that trade in love.*
Cleopatra's royal command has never in twenty centuries been answered the way it is here, but the moody food that Paul Gonsalves and his colleagues serve is undeniably stimulating.
The Egyptian queen's story is timeless in its appeal. Handed down by Plutarch to Shakespeare and countless other historians, playwrights, and novelists, it is once again the subject of a spectacular movie, which in turn appears to have inspired an international romance of not entirely dissimilar dimensions.
The Paul Gonsalves approach to the subject is exciting and decidedly passionate, though the cover shot is indicative of his patient preliminary research! Who can say whether the jazzman's conception of music for Cleopatra is any less appropriate than the pseudo-symphonic method usually adopted by Hollywood? The humor and high spirits here are as appropriate to the Inimitable Livers as the blues are to the Diers Together, groups which, according to Plutarch, owed their origin to Antony and Cleopatra and made Alexandrian night life memorable.
"Let's have one other gaudy night" is an effervescent line that Shakespeare put into Antony's mouth. It also expresses something of the reckless, runnin'-wild feeling that is at the core of jazz. Cleopatra was obviously a swinging chick and the average jazzman would not find it surprising that Antony preferred her to an empire. Imagine what a drag an empire could be! , Caesar, of course, never neglected his military business long, so Paul Gonsalves has given the Alex North "Theme for Caesar and Cleopatra", from the movie, an authoritative bounce and almost martial climax. "Theme for Antony and Cleopatra", on the other hand, is real moody food for — that's right! — those that trade in love.
"Bluz for Liz" was written by guitarist Kenny Burrell. His title suggests that he didn't go to the right museum, didn't do his homework, and didn't treat the historical aspects of the project with sufficient respect. However, it is a very attractive blues, and Liz looks like being synonymous with Cleopatra for quite a while to come. "Cleo's Blues" was written by Paul Gonsalves himself, and if the abbreviation of the queen's name strikes you as too familiar, ascribe it to the intimacy of all that museum research.
"Action in Alexandria" is a number Duke Ellington wrote specially for Paul. The title can, of course, be interpreted in a number of ways. There was certainly plenty of action in Alexandria during the period in question, culminating in the battle which settled the lovers' fate.
"Cleo's Asp", another composition by Kenny Burrell, is for Cleopatra's instrument of suicide, which was reputedly smuggled past her guards in a basket of figs. Plutarch also records that long before the finale, she had been trying out various kinds of poisons on prisoners, and had discovered that the asp's bite led to the least painful death of all.
"Cleopatra's Lament", a dirge-like theme by Manny Albam, brings the album to a fitting conclusion.
A musical salute to Cleopatra, this set is still primarily a showcase for Paul Gonsalves and his tenor saxophone. Paul has long been recognized by musicians as one of the most inspiring performers on the instrument. For more than a dozen years, he has been a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, and an important part of what is probably the greatest reed section in jazz history. He particularly values jazz for the freedom it affords him to interpret his own ideas, and he has ideas aplenty, as this set testifies. He expresses them easily and with one of the most consistently beautiful tones known to his profession, for he has never forgotten what one of his early teachers told him: "While you have to have technique to facilitate your ideas, primarily you should try for a good tone." In Paul's case, outstanding technical ability and good tone go together.
The supporting all-star group fully lives up to expectations, and Paul's close rapport with Kenny Burrell is striking throughout. Kenny and Hank Jones are in brilliant form as soloists, too, and the first side has a highly effective organ contribution by Dick Hyman, who improvises ingenious devices in the noble cause of "atmosphere". Manny Albam, for the same cause, makes his debut on what would be called a "miscellaneous instrument" in the music magazine polls — a bell tree. Caressing it gently with a small mallet, he adds to the seductive sounds as Shakespeare's "lass unparallel'd" goes her royal way:
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety. ... *
*William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
Paul Gonsalves - Tenor Saxophone
Hank Jones - Piano
Dick Hyman - Organ
Kenny Burrell - Guitar
George Duvivier - Bass
Roy Haynes - Drums
Manny Albam - Percussion
1. Caesar and Cleopatra Theme (North)
2. Antony and Cleopatra Theme (North)
3. Bluz for Liz (Burrell)
4. Cleo's Blues (Gonsalves)
5. Action in Alexandria (Ellington)
6. Cleo's Asp (Burrell)
7. Cleopatra's Lament (Albam)
8. Second Chance** (Previn & Langdon)
**Second Chance originally issued on the 7-inch single Impulse! 45-217
Recorded 21st May 1963 - NYC, USA