Quickly, how many bop-oriented clarinetists came you name? Not many come to mind seemingly, many players from the bebop-and-beyond generation seem to have associated the clarinet with a "bygone" jazz era. BLUES BAG, a reissue of a long-out-of-print early ‘60s Vee-Jay album, is essentially an Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers line-up with Buddy DeFranco replacing the saxophone. If at first it seems and odd pairing, DeFranco is of the generation of jazz players who made the transition from Swing to Bebop, and Blakey too played in big bands, and both were open to the progression of jazz.
This set features a pair of old standbys and some of that era’s "brave new jazz" compositions: by John Coltrane (the madly catchy "Cousin Mary"), Ornette Coleman ("Blues Connotation") and some tunes by this session’s pianist/vibist, the late and very underrated Victor Feldman. DeFranco plays some thorny, thoughtful bass clarinet throughout (regular clarinet on one tune), inspired though not imitating Dolphy, Coleman and Giuffre. Blakey is restrained but still driving and determined, and there’s shimmeringly lyrical piano AND vibes from Feldman. There’s some nice Lee M. here too, but I wish there was more. This could’ve been a typical head-solos-head thing, but everybody concerned wanted to make a well-thought, creative jazz album (while sidestepping meandering self-indulgence). BLUES BAG may turn out to be one of the most important reissues of 2000.