A Study in Contrasts: Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison’s “Illumination!”

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I’ve recently spent a bit of time listening again to the 1963 album Illumination!, by the Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison Sextet. I find it an interesting study of contrasts and a very unusual album. It features one of the greatest—if not the greatest—rhythm sections in the history of jazz: McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; and Elvin Jones, drums. This famous trio backed John Coltrane on his best-known Impulse! Records albums. I’ve wondered why the trio moved away from Coltrane duties to record Illumination!, and wish I could ask the producer, the late Bob Thiele, how this album came about.

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio on August 8, 1963, Illumination! also features lesser-known horn players who you’d think would never work in such illustrious company, but indeed they do. Sonny Simmons plays alto sax and English horn, Prince Lasha (“La-Shay”) plays clarinet and flute, and Charles Davis is on baritone saxophone.

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