The late alto saxophonist Sonny Criss was one of the sadder stories in jazz: a career marked by drastic peaks & valleys, ending in suicide shortly after his birthday in 1977. Some of his best music came out during a time-the mid-50s & 1975-when small-group jazz had been commercially eclipsed by the popularity of R&B and rock & roll. In 1956 he recorded three LPs for the Imperial label, usually best-known as a blues/New Orleans R&B/rock & roll label (the best Fats Domino singles, for example), all of which went the way of the Dodo by 1962. Blue Note has, in their wisdom, reissued Criss' Imperial output (in glorious monophonic!!!) on a spiffy 2-CD set.
We, the Listening Public, are truly better for it. Criss' alto is a remarkable: he's a disciple of Charlie Parker who avoids being "dominated" by his influence; a tone and feel deliciously drenched in the blues, much like his contemporaries Cannonball Adderley and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson; robust and mercurial while never being glib or high-speed for its own sake. And these performances feature something much jazz lost on the way to becoming A Deadly-Ernest Art Form: brevity. Economy. To-the-point. The tunes here (almost all standards, plenty of Cole Porter classics) are between the two & a half- to six-minute mark-no extraneous notes or noodling, everyone makes every note count. Hot, mod-be-bop jazz, right off the griddle, cooked to sizzling perfection by Criss and fellow chefs Sonny Clark (one of John Zorn's fave composers), Barney Kessel (who's played guitar with Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and the Beach Boys on Pet Sounds [!]), Kenny Drew and Leroy Vinnegar. Superb.