I’ve been a Booker Ervin fan since the days I saw him with the Charles Mingus Jazz workshop at the Five Spot, but I’ve always thought of him as a Prestige artist, based on his series of “Book” recordings for that label. I only recently learned that he recorded two albums for Blue Note―The In Between, released in 1968, and Tex Book Tenor, which remained unreleased until 1990, when it was released as a twofer LP along with a Horace Parlan session. According to Michael Cuscuna’s liner notes, sales of the previous Blue Note album and his Pacific Jazz records (both bought out by Liberty Records around this time) may have been lackluster enough for the suits to keep it in the can. It eventually enjoyed a CD release as part of Blue Note’s lamented Connoisseur series―the version I’m writing about here.
“Lackluster” is the last word I’d apply to Tex Book Tenor. Ervin’s quintet, comprising Booker, Woody Shaw (tp), Kenny Barron (pno), Jan Arnet (bass), and Billy Higgins (dr) has that hard-driving hard bop sound, from the Middle Eastern undertones of Gichi to the debut recording of Shaw’s classic In a Capricornian Way to Ervin’s sprightly Lynn’s Tune, dedicated to his daughter. My own favorite is 204, featured below. When Booker Ervin died in 1970 at age 39 of a kidney ailment, we lost a unique voice on tenor, as you can hear on Tex Book Tenor. Note: I wasn’t familiar with Jan Arnet, the bassist on this recording. A Czech, he preceded George Mraz and Miroslav Vitous in making his mark on the U.S. jazz scene. After he left the music business, he forged a new career in finance. When I looked him up, it turns out that he died in May of this year, so this post is also a tribute to him.