09 DEC 11 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Les Spann presents an interesting case study in instrumentalists whose ability seems to dwarf their reputation. Spann was quite expert on flute and guitar (not a common pairing), and although his musicianship could combine the best parts of Frank Wess and Barney Kessel, Spann rarely recorded as a leader. Thank goodness that Gemini (OJC, 2001), his only surviving set, remains in Concord's digital catalog.
Spann recorded Gemini over two December 1960 days with bassist Sam Jones, pianist Tommy Flanagan, and Julius Watkins on French horn; Louis Hayes played drums one day and Albert "Tootie" Heath the other. During this same period, Spann was also working with two of the decades' best bandleaders, Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones. Gemini demonstrates why he was welcome in such stellar company.
The light, breezy sound of Spann's flute nicely complements "It Might As Well Be Spring" and this cheery, opening "Smile." On guitar, Spann picks sharp melodic and rhythmic threads out of Gillespie's "Con Alma" and his own "Q's Dues Blues," where Flanagan rolls the ivories through his fingers like a master magician. Flanagan rips off another hot flurry in Watkins' scampering jackrabbit "Blues For Gemini." Spann's original "Afterthought" proves to be anything but. Watkins' French horn and the leader's flute beautifully harmonize their individual sounds into the coolly reflective jazz-classical "third stream."
Spann also contributes flute and guitar to That's Right! by Nat Adderley & the Big Sax Section (OJC, 1993) and to Abbey Lincoln's star-studded Abbey Is Blue (Riverside, 2005).