June 14, 2024

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CD review: Clifford Jordan – Drink Plenty Water – 2023: Video, CD cover

Legendary saxophonist Clifford Jordan’s Drink Plenty Water is the latest unearthed jazz recording of note. After 49 years on the shelf, the recording was originally done for the Strata-East label in 1974 and now issued on Harvest Strong Records, which reissued his acclaimed 1973 Strata-East Glass Bead Games in 2006.

It’s Jordan’s only primary vocal recording and consists of inventive arrangements, courtesy of bassist Bill Lee. The recording comes courtesy of Jordan’s widow, Sandy, who worked with Strata-East co-founder Charles Tolliver and engineer Malcolm Addey, working first with reference tapes, then discovering 16-track reels, and finally setting up an analog facility for the mix.

This process began during the pandemic and took a full two years to complete. Before proceeding, those unfamiliar with Strata-East should know that it was a pioneering artist-owned label, spearheaded by trumpeter Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell who plays on this album. Jordan was one of the label’s most vital contributors. The label’s mission was to give the artist total creative freedom, setting it apart from corporate-owned labels. Some of this writer’s most prized jazz albums from that period are from Strata-East including Tolliver’s Impact, Gil Scott-Heron’s Winter in America, Charles Sullivan’s Genesis, and Sonny Fortune’s Long Before Our Mothers Cried, to name a few. It’s definitely worth investigating.

For this date, most of the players were Strata-East regulars. Besides Cowell on piano, joining tenorist Jordan are Billy Higgins (drums), Dick Griffin (trombone), Bill Hardman (trumpet), Charlie Rouse (bass clarinet), Bernard Fennell (cello) and Sam Jones (bass) on select tracks. Jordan’s daughter, Donna Jordan Harris, the 16 years old, sings lead vocals on several tracks, backed by three vocalists – Kathy O’Boyle, Denise Williams, and Muriel Winston with actor David Smyrl on the spoken word tracks. The booklet includes remembrances from Tolliver, Griffin, Fennell, Jordan Harris, Williams, O’Boyle and Swiss pianist Franz Biffiger, who describes this as the pure opposite of Glass Bead Games, claiming the latter as the highest level of the Clifford Jordan Quartet work and this as a social and musical event in the tradition of Black folk music.

The opening “The Highest Mountain” (also a title of one of Jordan’s albums) is his most recorded piece and has been recorded by several other artist since but the vocal arrangement from Lee gives it a unique treatment. After the choir-like vocal intro, the band plays the vamp, Jordan plays obligato throughout and unleashes a melodic solo. The horns blend with the vocalists like a big band playing background shouts. “Witch Doctor’s Chant (Ed-Bah-Lickey-Doo)” and “I’ve Got a Feeling For You” appeared on Jordan’s 1968 Soul Fountain but these vocal renditions cast the tunes in an entirely different light. The former features robust Jordan soloing and signature Cowell piano while the latter dives deep into the blues with a feisty dialogue between Jordan and trombonist Griffin that ensues after the pop-like vocal.

The title track diverges from those tracks in terms of instrumentation and mostly due to David Smyrl’s narration of a story of man sentenced to prison for ten years, having only served one year. “Drink plenty water and walk slow” was an admonition the protagonist often heard. The piece begins with brilliant arco work from cellist Fennell followed by Jordan playing in unison with him. Jones enters bowed as well as Jordan and Fennell with subtle support from Cowell and Higgins underpin the spoken word. Higgins leads into “My Papa’s Coming Home” with Jones in pizzicato before the bevy of voices join in, Jordan delivers a concise, emotive solo and the voices take it out. The final two pieces are “Talking Blues,” a spoken word version and the instrumental closer. The first is a story about a hustler living a fast life, one that even one of today’s rappers would have fun with. On the busy track Jordan plays in the background along with Hardman on muted trumpet. Griffin weighs in using a plunger in his solo but the recitation takes place almost over the full nine minutes. The instrumental is similar in length, described by Griffin in the liners as a “blues conversation” among us, all gathered in the same room with eye contact. Said another way, it’s essentially Sun Ra-like free improvisation.

Drink Plenty Water now stands as a vital addition to Jordan’s storied catalog, but beyond that, it offers insight into some of the most creative music being made in the early to mid-seventies on the Strata-East label.

1. The Highest Mountain (03:54)
2. The Witch Doctor’s Chant (Ee-Bah-Lickey-Doo) (03:08)
3. Drink Plenty Water & Walk Slow (03:08)
4. I’ve Got A Feeling For You (03:13)
5. My Papa’s Coming Home (03:09)
6. Talking Blues (09:32)
7. Talking Blues (instrumental) (09:33)

Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone)
Stanley Cowell (piano)
Billy Higgins (drums)
Dick Griffin (trombone)
Bill Hardman (trumpet)
Charlie Rouse (bass clarinet,tenor saxophone)
Bernard Fennell (cello)
Sam Jones (bass)
Bill Lee (bass)
Donna Jordan Harris (vocals)
David Smyrl (vocals)
Denise Williams (vocals)
Kathy O’Boyle (vocals)

Clifford Jordan & his Friends: Drink Plenty Water CD

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