Review by Brad Haas

(4 CDs; Andrew's Music, 1999)

(Riverside, 1999)

   Saxophonist Andrew White's name and reputation were known to me several years back from one of Billy Taylor's jazz profiles on CBS Sunday Morning as well as the write-up in the 1985 Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. The Stone Guide presented an enigmatic portrait, a man with the talent and fortitude to transcribe hundreds of Coltrane solos, as well as produce all of his music for his own label, Andrew's Music. Each time I would enter a used record shop I would check the 'W' section just in case I might find one of the uniformly packaged albums - all white with gold lettering. One day I got lucky, a double album: "The Andrew White Quartet Live at the New Thing, 1970". It was blistering. Having lived just outside of Washington, D.C. all my life, and knowing that Andrew White was also a resident, I watched for notices of any gigs. After about a year, he played at One Step Down in Georgetown, a small and intimate venue. He played from 9:30pm to 3:20am, and didn't let the energy fall at any time. That concert was to promote White's first recordings in fifteen years, and the first on CD: GIGTIME 2000, a four CD set that documented a 1998 performance at One Step Down, almost identical to the concert used to promote it.

   Listening to the CDs, the first thing I noticed is the quality of the playing. White is the real thing, a monster player. Next, White hits you as a performer, someone who engages the crowd with his unashamed and glorious self-promotion, none of which has been excised from the performance, making this much closer to the live experience, as White's stage presence (wearing pants hiked up over his belly, held up by two pairs of colorful suspenders, exposed red socks, blue plaid shirt and long yellow tie) is an essential component. Finally, there is the impressive variety. In the liner notes White labels each tune as a particular style: 'Ballad', 'Romantic', 'Classical', 'Post Bee-Bop', 'Bee-Bop Quickie', 'Fast', 'Heavy Hitter', 'Soft Shoe', 'Belly Rub', 'Boody Groove', 'Boody-Latin Funk' 'Sultry Funk', 'Righteous Funk', 'Cosmic Fonk [sic]'... its all here, and all played with the same expertise and control, whether he is playing a fifteen minute version of Wayne Shorter's 'Night Dancer', a tender rendition of 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' in tribute to his late mother, an excerpt from Bach's 'Sinfonia from the Easter Oratorio', or one of the many incarnations of his set opener/closer 'Theme'. I have my favorite White mode: all out. The Wayne Shorter tune (mentioned above), must join the version of McCoy Tyner's 'Inner Glimpse' (an unrelenting 'Heavy Hitter' clocking in at almost twenty minutes), along with White's tribute to Coltrane (starting with 'Dear Old Stockholm' and working into a 'Coltrane Collage') as well as the incredible finger twisters involved in White's own 'NOUVEAU FONK' from the first disk. Having said this, I have seen other people equally enthusiastic about his softer side, and purchase the disks with the 'romantic' material. White gives something to everyone.

   The sound is quite good, keeping the atmosphere and quirks of the venue. Allyn Johnson plays the rather tinny sounding bar piano, a distinctive sound of One Step Down, and Steve Novosel's thoughtful base lines are sometimes lost in the mix. The drummer, T. Howard Curtis, is a heavy hitter, driving the music forward, and it is really his interaction with White that makes everything work. Curtis comes through fine, but it has to said he does not come through as loudly as he does in person. White's miked saxes are crystal, his tone very forceful and rich, though more nasal than Coltrane's, which makes his voicing individual and recognizable.

   Having seen a White concert almost identical to the one recorded here, I can tell you nothing replaces seeing him live (much like those privileged to see Coltrane live say no recording can replace it); but since he plays so rarely these days (a crime), this will stand as a record of what he is able to do. The fact that this is one concert is alone noteworthy, especially if you listen to the last disk, recorded early in the morning, and hear White is nowhere near tired. (The booklet also contains a catalogue of his vinyl releases, among which is the "Marathon '75" series, an eight record document of a 12 hour concert!). The four CDs can be bought singly for $12 each directly from Andrew White (as well as his entire back catalogue of 40+ vinyl titles at $8 a disk!). A catalogue of all the products he has self-produced (over 2000) can be obtained from:

Andrew's Musical Enterprises Incorporated
4830 South Dakota Ave., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017 USA
Phone: (202) 526-3666
Fax: (202) 526-4013

   Though White is best represented by the recordings from his own company, he has appeared on a handful of titles that can be found on a good day at retail outlets. White played for a while with Weather Report (on Bass and Oboe!), and cut the 1970 album Asante with McCoy Tyner. This last year also saw the release of the earliest White venture, as part of the "JFK" Quintet, a Washington outfit active in the early sixties. Story goes (as explained in the original liner notes included in this reissue), Cannonball Adderley heard the young group in Washington, was impressed with the clean bop and post-bop tunes, and offered to produce their first album, which he did, and New Jazz Frontiers from Washington is the result. The tunes are not groundbreaking, but show skill and grace, a mingling of blues influenced tunes with bop/post-bop influences, upbeat and smooth. It is a very different sound to hear White alongside a trumpeter (Ray Codrington). At the time of this 1961 recording, the drummer, Carl "Mickey" Newman, had only been playing for three years, but you could never guess this. He isn't a Max Roach or Art Blakey, but he can keep time, and do some nice soloing. As might be suspected, however, the 19-year old White is what makes this desirable; when he starts to solo, though a bit more restrained than his later efforts (and one must keep in mind this had to have the ultra-smooth Adderley's stamp of approval), the somewhat conventional tunes take on a different dimension. You can sense that White was very cognizant of the sounds being produced by the innovators around that time, especially Coltrane and Dolphy. This is an important early document of Washington jazz, and of the first commercial recordings we have of White, who no doubt will figure more importantly in future jazz histories once his music is heard by a wider audience, one that cannot be reached by his current individualistic (and stubbornly admirable) method of distribution.

For more Andrew White, check out
"Chicken Alto"