EDDIE DANIELS
Homecoming/Live at the Iridium
IPO Recordings

If there is a better jazz clarinet player anywhere in this world (or any other for that matter) than Eddie Daniels, I’ve never heard him or her. He has simply taken that impossibly difficult instrument and taught it new tricks. The clarinet’s heyday ran from the Dixieland era through the swing era and then for all intents and purposes, was quickly and quietly put to rest. After the swing era the instrument was considered by many ensconced in the be-bop movement to be too old fashioned. The fact that the clarinet is so hard to play didn’t help its case either.

There were a few hearty souls that tried to give the clarinet a voice in the new music. The likes of Jimmy Giuffre, Tony Scott and Pee Wee Russell had moderate success in that endeavor. Even Buddy DeFranco, clearly the most proficient clarinetist of the be-bop era, with his superb musical ability, could not change the attitudes of musicians and jazz fans that had turned their back on the clarinet.

Sometime during 1965 or 66, I was in an elevator with Eddie Daniels, at the Juilliard School of Music (where we were both students), and asked, “What do you really want to do?” Daniels looked at me with a completely straight face and said, “I want to bring the clarinet back to jazz.” I can only imagine the look on my face, but I do remember thinking, “Bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.” Well here we are several decades later, and guess what, you are listening to more and more bands featuring clarinet solos. Young saxophone players are starting to play the clarinet again and jazz fans are listening. I think it is no coincidence.

Daniels’ ability on the clarinet not withstanding, people are beginning to discover (or rediscover) that he is also a great tenor saxophonist as well. He has recorded on tenor several times in the last fifteen or so years including the CD Mean What You Say, with the great Hank Jones, in May 2005 (Saxophone Journal, Sept. /Oct 2006).

The double CD set opens with Daniels aiming both barrels of his tenor on an up-tempo version of Falling in Love With Love. His clear, buoyant sound floats on top of the urgency of his lines. Daniels’ time is a mix of effortless swing, and in your face, “This is where it is, Gang,” attitude. His technique on tenor is just as clean as his clarinet, with every note resonating with clarity and purpose. The band assembled for this outing is a stellar mix of East and West Coast heavies. The East is represented by Joe Locke – vibes and Dave Fink – bass; the West by Tom Ranier – piano and Joe La Barbara – drums: they came to play, and play they do. Daniels recorded this tune on First Prize, his first album as leader in 1966; this time around he adds some great chromatic II – V changes.

Daniels displays his beautiful, singing tenor sound on the Latin-grooved Not Alone, by Mike Patterson as well as two ballads, the seldom heard Warm Valley by Duke Ellington, and the leaders own, Love’s Long Journey. When you hear the first few notes of Alone, played in the high register of the tenor, you’ll swear Daniels is playing the clarinet, the sound is so clear and transparent. His truly melodic sensibility is apparent throughout all three tunes, and without being a clone, the influence of Stan Getz cannot be missed. Incidentally, Daniels also recorded Journey on the previously mentioned First Prize album, but then the cut consisted of only one chorus of the melody, here he solos on the form of the tune as well.

The final tour-de-force on tenor is Cole Porter’s Night and Day via Giant Steps changes as brought to the world by Jerry Bergonzi. The tempo is way up with fine solos by the leader as well as Locke and Ranier.

Daniels plays about half the CD on clarinet, and my favorites are a 14 and a half minute excursion through John Lewis’s Django, Tom Ranier’s lovely waltz-ballad, Prism, and two Daniels originals, Chosen Words and That’s for Afta. The entire ensemble shines in tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet on Django, probably Lewis’s most famous piece. Daniels very personal, gorgeous sound as well as his amazing control are the main focus on Prism and his bossa-nova, Words.

Daniels’ chops on the clarinet have been known to make grown men cry, so I suggest you have plenty of hankies available when you listen to That’s for Afta. The tuneis Daniels’ take on After You’ve Gone; the tempo is way up, and the stuff Daniels playswill have you begging for mercy.

Greatness is hard to define and totally subjective. If you need evidence as to Daniels’ greatness as a clarinet and tenor player, make this CD exhibit A.