February 12, 2003

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Second Time Around

Cannonball Adderley
Radio Nights (Hyena)

Forty-some years down the road, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley is not mentioned in the same breath as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Still, he was an important part of jazz's glory days and a member of the Davis band that produced two of its finest moments, the albums Milestones and Kind of Blue. Adderley's solo career, which flourished after his tenure with Davis, produced music that was pleasant, if not particularly innovative, and included the 1966 pop hit, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."

Radio Nights was released last fall, along with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's The Man Who Cried Fire, Eddie Harris's A Tale of Two Cities, and Les McCann's Les Is More, to celebrate the debut of Hyena Records, producer Joel Dorn's latest project (in recent years he's been the force behind 32 Records and Label M, which, like Hyena, specialized in music recorded during the '50s and '60s). Radio Nights was recorded live at the Half Note in New York City between late 1967 and early 1968 and is as strong as anything Adderley recorded for Capitol, the label to which he was signed in those days.

Adderley's band features an all-star lineup with his brother Nat on coronet, Charles Lloyd on tenor saxophone, Joe Zawinul on keyboards, Sam Jones on bass, and Louis Hayes and Roy McCurdy alternating on drums. The songs highlight the qualities that made Adderley's music so popular; it is, for the most part, bluesy and soothing, full of warm rich tracks like "Stars Fell on Alabama" and the Lloyd composition "The Song My Lady Sings." The playing on upbeat numbers like Jones's "Unit Seven" is superb but entertains rather than challenges the listener to hang on. The commercial qualities of Adderley's music no doubt mattered to jazz fans at the time. Today the battle line is drawn elsewhere, and you're free to enjoy Radio Days simply as great music by great musicians. (J.H. Tompkins)