Booker Little on Pure Pleasure

Pure Pleasure Records is a British audiophile-label that—like the stateside Analogue Productions, Classic Records, and Cisco Recordings—reissues blue-chip jazz albums on pristine virgin vinyl. Pure Pleasure’s focus is the catalogue of Candid Records, an adventurous label that lasted only from 1960-61, with critic Nat Hentoff in charge of A&R. In the past few years, PPR has released such essential works of modern jazz as The Newport Rebels, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, and Max Roach’s We Insist! But its latest reissue, trumpeter Booker Little’s Out Front, is a revelation. Little was 23 when he recorded this, his fourth and final album as a leader; he died of uremia just six months later—a huge loss for the music.

Jazz was teeming with new sounds in 1961—most notably Ornette Coleman’s “free jazz,” with its rejection of conventional chord structures—and Little was pursuing a different sound still. His tone was plangent but soulful, and his compositions were rich with stacked harmonies and dark minor intervals that conveyed a sweet melancholy. His rhythms were complex—driving, restless, with shifting tempos, yet ceaselessly swinging.

Nothing in jazz sounded quite like this, and nothing would for another 33 years, when Dave Douglas renewed Little’s legacy (his 1994 masterpiece, In Our Lifetime, was explicitly a Booker Little tribute-alum). But Douglas, who remains our most vital living trumpeter, could not enjoy the uncanny sextet on Out Front, including Eric Dolphy on reeds, hot off his own “out” albums (Outward Bound and Out There), dashing through arpeggios with Charlie Parker’s graceful energy and Ornette’s piercing tone; and Max Roach on drums, playing off and against Little’s time-shifts, bringing in novel elements (like the tympani), splitting the rhythms like atoms and thereby astronomically boosting the energy.

Engineer Bob d’Orleans’ sonics, like that of many Candids from the day, are exceptional: not quite as airy as the best Rudy Van Gelders on Blue Note, Impulse!, or Verve; nor as tonally true as Fred Plaut’s uncredited wonders on Columbia; but just a notch below.

Pure Pleasure Records is distributed in the U.S. by Acoustic Sounds.

Richard Kamins's picture

Absolutely right on, Fred - a stunning album that shows little sign of aging. I always marvel at the complexity of the music and how together the band is.

Erik Schwab's picture

Just discovered this blog today -- excellent writing about truly great musicians. I'd love to subscribe to the RSS feed, but I can't figure out how! Where is it?

howard's picture

great to see that this recording is again available. this was the first booker little album i ever bought, and i got it partly because i knew he was another of the "died too young" trumpeters and partly because of the presence of roach and dolphy. like so many of my lps, i haven't listened to it in a long time, but i'm going to dig it out again this weekend.

Frank Rizzo's picture

This is a true desert island disc. The music is timeless.And regarding sound quality, there's not a Blue Note that can hold a candle to it.