Stolen Moments

candlelight-valentines-dinnerSoft candlelight.  The aroma of a good red wine wafting up from the wine glasses on the table.  The anticipation of romance, and of finally being in the place you want to be, with the person you want to be with.  The slight burn of alcohol on your throat as you sip the wine and the tensions of the work week are melting away.  Good food, good company, good conversation, all the while with a hint of passion simmering beneath the surface.  Warm smiles, giggles, and the scent of perfume or cologne from your dinner companion.   The promise of love requited.  The melancholy ache that comes from the knowledge that this time is short, the episode brief, and these perfect moments are stolen.

Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson

This is the mood and flavor of one of my favorite tunes ever recorded, “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson.    It is from his 1961 album, “The Blues and the Abstract Truth”, recorded on the Impulse label.  I was going to write all about the mechanics of this tune, how the tune itself is a 16 bar form, but the soloists play over a 12 bar minor blues. I was going to explore the harmonic differences between playing a blues in a minor key and playing in the usual major key with a dominant seventh sound.  I was going to lift up the hood, show you the engine, all the moving parts, take apart the transmission and put it all back together for you.  Then I realized that sort of misses the point of why this is a favorite tune of mine.  Just like a Corvette isn’t sexy because of the thermostat inside the engine, technical details don’t reveal what is great about this recording.

“Stolen Moments” is a brilliant, sexy tune because of how it captures the bittersweet emotions of those brief encounters with the person that owns your heart.  The craving of the thought, “Why can’t it always be like this?”.  The longing, wanting, yearning for more of these moments that are stolen away in a life full of responsibilities and demands.  The beauty of a sunset walk on the beach, that will inevitably fade into night.  The fragrance of the blooms on a magnolia tree, which will begin to fall off as soon as they blossom.  The romantic evening that you don’t want to end, but time marches on and morning will come.  If you haven’t experienced these times in life, you won’t get the full impact of what this tune is about.

Stolen Moments

Blues and the abstract truth“The Blues and the Abstract Truth” is the most successful album that Nelson ever recorded.  He is a brilliant arranger, composer, as well as saxophonist.  The names on this record will make the ears of any jazz connoisseur perk up.  Oliver Nelson plays alto and tenor saxophone on the record, along with the great Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Eric Dolphy on flute and alto saxophone.  The rhythm section includes Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.  Some of the arrangements include George Barrow on baritone saxophone, but he does not take solos on any of the tunes.  This ensemble provided Nelson with an expanded palette of instrumental colors with which to work, and he makes full use of them.

I have only one reservation about this acclaimed album.  I have never really warmed up to the tune “Hoe Down”, partly because of the order of tunes on the album.  The opening tune is “Stolen Moments”.  I’m left with a warm, fuzzy afterglow as the end of Nelson’s signature composition comes to a close.  It seems like the perfect place for a ballad, or just about anything else in the world but “Hoe Down”, the tune that is second.  The opening farmyard squawks of “Hoe Down” just hit me like a bucket of ice water over the head.  It is a picturesque and inventive tune to be sure, but just always seems out-of-place to me.  It’s as distasteful to me as punching in to work on Monday morning after a vacation.

Still, “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” remains an essential jazz album to know.  The solo work of Hubbard and Dolphy elevate the brilliant arrangements of Oliver Nelson’s tunes.  The album deserves every bit of acclaim it has received.  You will forgive me if I have to program the order of the tunes on my playlist slightly differently than they appeared on the original album.

Oliver Nelson, “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” on Spotify



16 thoughts on “Stolen Moments

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  1. I also see a beauty in the structure, how that thermostat works. Most people don’t, tho and are satisfied by a nice tune. I need to download the Spotify, but will listen😄

  2. I think it’s amazing that you understand the mechanics of the song and I’m impressed by that. I have no musical training so to me it sounds like a wonderful, smooth piece of music. Would it have been written with the mechanics in mind?

    1. Oliver Nelson was a smart composer. I’m confident he new the craft of what he was writing, and was intentionally using the mechanics of music for specific effect. It’s a great tune!

  3. I couldn’t agree more, this whole album is a masterpiece. Dolphy and Nelson’s solos are sublime and memorable. Another thing I adore about ‘Stolen Moments’ is how far behind the beat the horns are when playing the head… Just brilliant. Can I also recommend the Oliver Nelson/Eric Dolphy album ‘Straight Ahead’ for anyone who hasn’t heard it? Very similar personnel and quality level.

    1. Playing behind he beat, the little crescendos in the intro, the rising and falling chromatic thing in the middle …. All come together to add that delicious tension in the mood of this music. Great stuff from Nelson

  4. Thanks for your recent like. I hope you enjoyed the fun video as much as I did.
    I really like this post of yours a lot. I haven’t listened to the recording yet but all that you wrote really hits home with me right now. I believe in the Universe providing us what we need when we need it. Thank you for writing this piece, and the way your wrote it, intentionally focusing on the feeling instead of the mechanics. I like your writing style. It really put me in that place with the candlelight, someone special by my side, and passion in the air.

  5. Thanks so much for writing about this wonderful and important piece of music that I have loved for many years. I never thought of it in the way you describe, too young when I first heard it? My ‘Stolen Moments’ story came about in 1973, after a long sea voyage, getting off the ship at the destination, Sydney, NSW, sick as a dog, barely managed to make it to the hotel, falling on the bed, turning on the radio and what’s playing? Yes, ‘Stolen Moments.’ I’d like to say my fever abated instantly, but no such luck. Nevertheless, I did know for sure I was going to survive. For me, this song holds such promise and encouragement to hold on and keep on going.

  6. What a lovely blog…I will come back here to linger a little longer and listen! Thank you!

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