Gatefold Club: The Blues and the Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson

The Gatefold Club is a small group of people gathered together under Twitter to listen to an album and then comment on it. It’s like a book club for records. Every week, one “member” gets to choose an album from any genre for the listening enjoyment of the rest of the group. We then go away and listen to the album in its entirety, in silence, no shuffle. Rather selfishly, I’ve started with my own choice, but I promise to catch up! Actually, I did listen to the first ever Gatefold Club suggestion, Edwyn Collins’ KLosing Sleep, but I have lost my notes.

Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, from 1961, is one of those “classic” jazz albums that might pass you by, if you weren’t careful. It’s one of my favourites, and not least for the laid-back opener, Stolen Moments.


Oddly enough f or a Zappa fan like me, I got to know this Stolen Moments before the Zappa cover on Broadway the Hard Way. I love the contrast in solo-ing styles with Eric Dolphy’s outside flute fitting perfectly into the blues structure and making Nelson’s following tenor solo sound even more seductive and sonorous. It seems something of a surprise that Zappa’s band would know this; it’s a rather cool tune connected to 50’s jazz, but perhaps the discomfiting presence of Dolphy is what elevates it for Uncle Frank.

Hoedown’s melody starts off sounding folky, but it’s slightly off-kilter rhythm means it doesn’t sound hokey. Here, Dolphy has an alto solo is that gives the edginess..

The sound of this recording is wonderful and there is some beautiful stereo sound-stage effects that put you right in the front of the big (ish) band. Would that Steven Wilson could be persuaded to do a 5.1 surround sound mix. Love the echo of Stolen Moments in the outtro.

Side 2 starts (yes, I’m listening on vinyl) with a very laid back theme played by Bill Evans. The most overtly blues so far. Still, the form is stretched, which is the point of this whole album. Dolphy on alto again prevents any easy-listening thoughts you might have. Freddie Hubbard has solos on all but the final track. Nelson writes that he is like a Coltrane on trumpet, and you can see what he means.

The tune for Butch and Butch reminds me of an Ornette theme. Nelson claims it is boppish, but to me it is bop as heard post-Ornette Coleman. Only the rhythm nails it a bop feel. Roy Haynes’ drumming seems to be chasing it along like a butcher with a fly swat. Which he does on most of these numbers.

The final track opens with Paul Chambers bass theme, as he had opened So What some 5 or 6 years previously. the ensemble comes in with the real theme, which is like something from an avant-noir thriller. Another astonishing and unpredictable alto solo from Dolphy, that still somehow fits in with the comped chords from Bill Evans. Nelson’s tenor draws it all back under control, playing across the bar lines with held notes. Chambers takes a solo to mirror his opening of the song and then the ensemble simple restates the theme and do a sort of live fade to bring the album to an end.

Zappa’s version of Stolen Moments is bisected by a guest spot by Sting as the band shift seamlessly into one of his own compositions, Murder By Numbers. I’ve often wondered how that brilliant Zappa band came to play Stolen Moments in this way. The part of the story we do hear goes: Zappa meets Sting and invites him to play with the band. The conversation I assume must have swiftly moved to “What shall we play?” Did Sting offer up Murder… because it has a chord structure very similar to …Moments? If it does, Mr Sting would guess the seasoned jazzers in the Zappa troupe would surely have the chord structure at their fingertips and could seamlessly slip into the Police song (and back). They clearly did.

But whereas the Zappa band is driven by Scott Thunes rumbling, punchy bass, Stolen Moments and the rest of Blues and the Abstract Truth are driven by Roy Haynes’ drumming. This, I think is crucial to why the album sounds so good.

There is a seriousness with which Oliver Nelson teases apart the blues structure in these songs in search of a new angle with a familiar idiom. But Haynes keeps the whole thing swinging and playful. And that playfulness clearly rubs off on the soloists. It still sounds great.