Trumpeter/arranger Fred Adams, a Philadelphia musical visionary and long-time member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, has led the Philadelphia Heritage Art Ensemble for many years. His group has mined the compositions of two legendary hard boppers from Philly—trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Hank Mobley—with wonderful creative results, evident on the group’s newest album, Crossing the Bridge 2.
Fred Adams’s first project, the 2002 album Under the Bridge for the Dreambox label, was an unqualified critical success and featured some of the city’s favorite and finest players. But sadly, some of the musicians involved have since passed away: beloved pianist Sid Simmons, bassists James “Hicks” Glenn and Ed Crockett, and trombonist Clifford Adams.
Clifford Adams lives
But on Crossing the Bridge 2 (now on Heritage Sound), the late Adams (no relation to Fred Adams), a mainstay of Kool and the Gang and the Trenton jazz scene, can be heard again in all his sumptuously smooth trombone glory. Fred Adams saved some tracks the group had recorded with the trombonist and, on this new album, veteran members return, like saxophonist James Stewart and drummer Craig McIver, with newer additions to the band: bassist Lee Smith and pianist Luke Carlos O’Reilly.
The lead track is “Bossa for Desta,” a song by Fred Adams for his daughter, and it follows a hard bop tradition of ‘60s composers Stanley Turrentine and Horace Silver, who incorporated samba into their compositions within this soulful genre. Lee Morgan’s “Soft Touch” is next up, a more straightforward waltz than Morgan’s original, but Clifford Adams’s amazing trombone brought tears to my eyes. Listening reminded me of Adams’s own sensitive tune, “Graceful Feeling” (from his album Master Power), and I mourned anew this loss to our music community.
Sparkle, dance, fabulous fours, and more
On Hank Mobley’s tune “Three Way Split,” saxophonist James Stewart and drummer Craig McIver really sparkle, with a McIver solo alternately emphatic and bold yet delightfully gentle (as Craig is wont to do). Fred Adams’s “Interlude” is contemplative, with Smith on bass and O’Reilly on piano setting the mood with acute sensitivity. The rendition is haunting and reminiscent of an early New Orleans slow drag infused with a slight gospel feeling. Another Fred Adams composition, “Dance of Six Sense,” features an O’Reilly piano solo that literally dances over and under the melody, accentuating crisp lines of intuitive responses to Adams’s tender and yearning trumpet, leading into Smith’s energetic yet sweetly sung bass solo.
Closing out this amazing project is “Work Out,” a Hank Mobley classic with deliciously gritty horn arrangements and a saxophone solo by James Stewart that really digs into the tune, fully expressing the zeitgeist of ‘50s Philly hard bop. There are fabulous fours traded by McIver on drums and the horn ensemble, leading into a drum solo where McIver exemplifies the more expressive role of the drumset in hard bop, changing patterns, unconventional movements, and polyrhythms galore.
Lastly, “The Trumpet Song” by Fred Adams features Philly favorite pianist Alfie Pollitt along with the songwriter’s expressive and plaintive voice. It’s a lovely coda to this musical tribute to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Heritage Art Ensemble, a treasure of a band created and kept alive by trumpeter Fred Adams, reminds us all of the cultural joy our jazz musicians have given to our town. Fittingly, this project has been dedicated to trombonist Clifford Adams, who left us too soon and with too much more to say.
What, When, Where
The Philadelphia Heritage Art Ensemble’s Crossing the Bridge 2 was released by Heritage Sound on February 13, 2019. It’s available to download now.