The Complete Imperial Sessions

LABELS: Blue Note
ALBUM TITLE: Sonny Criss
PERFORMER: Sonny Criss (as), Kenny Drew, Sonny Clark (p), Barney Kessel (g), Leroy Vinnegar (b), Lawrence Marable (d), etc


The writer Max Harrison has observed that, often in jazz, ‘the mentality of the auction room prevails, whereby the flimsiest sketch by a big name is valued more than the choicest canvas of a minor master’.

Certainly alto saxophonist Sonny Criss, who committed suicide shortly after his 50th birthday in 1975, was a minor master, and this collection of his work for the Imperial label in 1956 is indeed a choice canvas.

Hard bop, today the lingua franca of jazz, can be a terrible bore at the hands of the current crop of 20-something musicians, and you only have to listen to Criss on these tracks to see why. His precisely focused improvisations have fluency and passion with an urgency and inner meaning that even with the passage of time still sound fresh and new.

What is also interesting about his playing is the diatonic perspective he will often give to a set of chord changes. Yet Criss was equally fluent with chromatic harmonies when he chose to use them, as, for example, his final session for Imperial, a collection of Cole Porter standards reveal.


He was also a master of the blues, and to hear ‘West Coast Blues’ or ‘The Blues For Rose’ is to realise what a much neglected player he was, and still is. Stuart Nicholson