"When I was younger and in love with the clarinet playing of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Ed Hall, I found it hard to take Pee Wee Russell's edgy, thin tone; but as time went on, I began to realize that Russell's improvisations were so much more inventive and creative than Goodman's that the comparison worked in Russell's favor.
In his later years, Russell played more in the lower register, producing a beautiful, soft woody tone that complemented his sharp, acidic upper range. That is the sound he used when playing with Thelonious Monk, and that is the sound you hear on this CD. All of the tracks are exquisite, there is not a dull or uninteresting piece in the entire set, and Marshall Brown is able to follow Russell's thoughts beautifully, complementing or contrasting with the clarinetist as need be.
Unlike Coltrane or Coleman, Russell could not work without some harmonic underpinning, as is evidenced in his set with Monk when the pianist suddenly stops feeding him chords and he gets lost, so the Coltrane and Coleman pieces on here are harmonized by Brown to keep Russell grounded, but that is the only concession made to the sexagenarian clarinetist. Musicians ranging from Coleman Hawkins to Ornette Coleman praised this recording when it was first released, and with good reason...it proved that Pee Wee Russell's creative genius was still very much alive at this late point in his career, and the choice of material served to completely sever his ties with the "Nicksieland" jazz of the Eddie Condon gang, with which he had played for close to 20 years.
Timeless, moving forward and back at the same time.
Troy Collins | Lancaster, PA United States | 05/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Dixieland icon and all around unpredictable clarinetist Pee Wee Russell released his groundbreaking album Ask Me Now! in 1963. In much the same way that Sonny Rollins re-invented himself on The Bridge, by embracing the structural freedoms of avant garde jazz, Pee Wee Russell does much the same on Ask Me Now!. Wanting to distance himself from the traditional Dixieland scene that he had been part of all his life, Russell formed a small piano-less quartet, featuring valve trombonist Marshall Brown, to play modern jazz. Although the album is primarily a fairly straight ahead swinging affair rounded out by a few ballads, included are tunes penned by Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and a fantastic cover of Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround". Ironically, this may be one of the most timeless sounding albums released by Impulse!."
AMERICA's ORIGINAL ART-FORM...
Sébastien Melmoth | Hôtel d'Alsace, PARIS | 07/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
". A fine session of cool jazz as a late framework for old-timer Pee Wee Russell. (Inflects the timbres of What Is There to Say? and Birth of the Cool .) Rhythm section good. Marshall Brown excellent on slide trombone and bass trumpet. Lighter atmosphere without staccato piano. Remastered sound excellent. All-around nice set. (Only drawback are short track times due to Pee Wee's advanced age.) ."
No, YOU ask ME!
jive rhapsodist | NYC, NY United States | 01/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Stretching. Open. Hyper-sensitive. And the recording! Sometimes it's like we can hear all the hollowness in the center of the clarinet body. Amazing to hear Pee Wee play Ornette, Coltrane, Monk (imagine his recording with Monk if it would've been put together anywhere nearly so carefully as this session was). Some of the more "avant" compositions are still treated as 12-bar blues, or simply as melodies,and so Pee Wee just does his thing, without really having to deal with either post - 50's changes playing, or post - changes playing!. But still, the absence of piano or guitar, the modern playing of George (bass) and Bedford (drums) and the intelligent, searching arrangements of Marshall Brown push Pee Wee to a height of lyricism and intensity. In other words, this CD is maybe not as modern as it's hyped-up to be, but it's still modern, or better than modern - timeless. And I definitely don't miss those Nixieland confreres."
Pee Wee and "Dixieland"
Arnold Day | Wayne, NJ United States | 11/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I disagree with those who assert that, by making this recording, he was trying (or even wanting) to "sever his ties" with 'Dixieland', 'Nixieland', or any other earlier style of jazz. He was at home in many jazz styles and, in my opinion, was simply showing that in this particular recording; everybody likes a change of pace from time to time! His love of the older jazz styles never left him, as his choice of sidemen showed when he had a chance to lead/form a group."