Jackie McLean ‘Right Now!’

Altoist Jackie McLean made loads of great records for Blue Note in the 1960s, and this is one I come back to time and again. Three of the four long tracks are uptempo, adventurous yet melodic modal-leaning hard bop, all of which feature excellent arrangements and KILLER solos by a band that includes Larry Willis (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Clifford Jarvis (drums). But the highlight is the ballad “Poor Eric” (written for Eric Dolphy who had recently passed away), which has an atmosphere that takes over the room—reflective, melancholic, and achingly beautiful. Give “Poor Eric” a listen and I’m pretty confident it will find a place on whatever playlist holds your favorite ballads. While listening ‘Right Now!’ this morning over coffee, two enthusiastic thumbs up were delivered from my wife—the equivalent to a jazz Michelin Star. Jackie McLean has a reputation for a somewhat sharp tone and freer structures (see his incredible and essential ‘Destination Out!’ album, for example), but ‘Right Now!’ eschews those elements and the more straightforward approach with this quartet works marvelously. This is a GREAT jazz record that has a lot to offer—highly recommended. And dig that Reid Miles LP jacket! This is a 2015 Music Matters 33RPM reissue MMBST-84215, stereo. Originally recorded 29 Jan 1965 and issued in 1966

Art Pepper Quartet

Wow, Omnivore really knocked it out of the park with this clear vinyl reissue of Art Pepper’s classic quartet date. Pepper is joined on this late 1956 session by Russ Freeman-piano, Ben Tucker-bass, and Gary Frommer-drums. It was originally issued in 1957 on Tampa Records, and various reissues (some of dodgy quality) have hit the shelves since. OJC did a nice CD reissue in ‘94 with several bonus tracks, but this pressing, which was cut by Kevin Gray from the original mono tapes, sounds pretty darn spectacular. If you dig Art’s west coast cool vibe before his life went completely off the rails, this one’s a keeper. The LP does include an alternate take of “Blues at Twilight” which is a neat variation. However, I keep returning to the Pepper original “Pepper Pot” and I’ve always liked Pepper’s take on “Besame Mucho”, though I am more partial to the approach taken with his late 70s/early 80s bands which incorporated a bit of a Coltrane-esque vibe. Great listen, and still easily/inexpensively found

Herbie Hancock ‘The New Standard’

‘The New Standard’ was issued in 1996 and contained Herbie’s reimagining of tunes by Nirvana, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sade, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, Peter Gabriel, & Steely Dan. While on paper this may look like a setup for background music for The Weather Channel, remember you’re dealing with here, and he assembled a band to realize this vision that included Michael Brecker-tenor/soprano sax, John Scofield-guitar, Dave Holland-bass, Jack DeJohnette-drums, and Don Alias-percussion. Have no fear that this isn’t a killer jazz record through and through—in most cases, the most recognizable hook of each song’s melody is only briefly referenced. Then it’s off to the races, as Herbie & Co lead us into an alternate universe where the jazz inclinations of Prince or Donald Fagen & Walter Becker are amplified, and jazz possibilities previously unexplored in the writing of Kurt Cobain or Don Henley are given a day in court. Great record. The first Japanese pressing of the CD has a bonus disc containing several live tracks that are also pretty fantastic. This 2019 pressing from Universal Korea was pressed at Pallas on 2 LPs and sounds terrific—recommended. Long may you run Herbie

McCoy Tyner ‘Expansions’

It’s worth immersing yourself into each of the records released during his remarkable, prolific, late-60s run. ‘Expansions’ finds Tyner leading a septet featuring Wayne Shorter-tenor sax/clarinet, Woody Shaw-trumpet, Gary Bartz-alto sax/flute, Ron Carter-cello, Herbie Lewis-bass, and Freddie Waits-drums. “Vision” opens the record—a high-speed modal exploration with Tyner’s left hand serving as timekeeper and taskmaster, while his right hand dances madly and melodically. A series of musical conversations unfold over the next twelve minutes, some veering into edgy territory. It’s an exciting listen, though it comes in second among the four Tyner originals here. Top slot goes to “Peresina,” which is one of my fave Tyner tunes ever. Here, Tyner establishes a compelling piano groove before launching into a beautiful solo accompanied by a subtle yet perfect horn arrangement—one has to believe that producer Duke Pearson had more than a little arranging input—leading into a classic Wayne Shorter solo. The handoff back to Tyner is like butter, and Tyner takes another solo that revels in melodic joy before it’s all over after what feels like a short ten minutes. The whole record is pretty great—Shaw never fails to deliver, and it’s interesting to hear Carter on cello, even though he’s a stronger bassist than a cellist. This is a 1985 French DMM (Direct Metal Mastering) pressing BST 84338 as part of the Cadre Rouge Audiophile series. I’ve not compared it to any other pressing, but it sounds fine to my ears, and it came with this nifty poster (photos 2 and 3). I don’t know if the poster was included with all DMM pressings or if it was a retailer-specific thing…can any other collector’s shed light on this?

Sonny Fortune ‘Long Before Our Mothers Cried’

‘Long Before Our Mothers Cried’ is a 1974 Strata East LP from sax master Sonny Fortune, who made plenty of great records, but none that cover quite as much ground as this one. The freedom of Strata East was empowering, and Fortune made the most of the opportunity, partnering with Strata East founder Stanley Cowell (piano) and unsung trumpet hero Charles Sullivan to form a formidable melodic core, inspired by a triple threat of percussion in Mario Muñoz, Angel Allende, and Richie Pablo Landrum. Keeping everybody in line (on occasion) are Wayne Dockery (bass) and Chip Lyle (drums). The opening title track unfolds over 15 minutes, tapping modal, spiritual and soul-jazz veins as the players find their collective and individual grooves. The four shorter tracks are a bit more straightforward than the title track, but no less deep. This isn’t an obvious record—it takes a few spins to sink in, but it’s a keeper. This was recorded right down the road at Miniot Studio in White Plains, NY. Mr. Fortune dedicated this to “the mothers that I’ve known in my life” so I’m going to do the same—Happy Mother’s Day! I‘d also like to take a moment to apologize to my own mom for my Frank Zappa phase, my King Crimson phase, all four sides of John Coltrane’s ‘Live in Seattle’, and if Instagram didn’t have a character limit, I’d go on. And on

Noel McGhie & Space Spies ‘Trapeze’

Spiritual fusion excellence from a superb quintet. Jamaican percussionist Noel McGhie recruited Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki, pairing him on the frontline with Brazilian alto saxophonist Jorge Joao. Pianist Georges Eduard Nouel and bassist Louis Xavier—both from Martinique—round out the quintet. Originally recorded in France back in 1975, this is a 2015 reissue on Superfly who did the one right—heavyweight vinyl & jacket, quality artwork, obi, and insert, and the pressing itself is flat, quiet and sounds fantastic. The music is soulful, groovy, electric jazz, with nods to electric period Miles Davis, and records like Herbie Hancock’s ‘Flood’ or Eddie Henderson’s ‘Sunburst’. Plenty of electricity for fusion appeal, plenty of modal/spiritual jazz vibes for more traditional palettes. The vinyl is limited and growing scarce, but the digital availability of Noel McGhie & Space Spies ‘Trapeze’ is pretty ubiquitous…worth hearing, and in my humble opinion, worth acquiring

Miles Davis ‘Sorcerer’

Happy 94th birthday to the Prince of Darkness, Miles Davis! It wasn’t hard to pick an album for today’s post—‘Sorcerer’ has been in heavy rotation for the last couple of weeks. My deep appreciation (bordering on obsession) with the Second Great Quintet is no secret, and each of the six albums they released between 1965–1968 is a gift that keeps on giving. ‘Sorcerer’ from 1967 is a middle child and one that some of my jazz pals rank slightly lower than the others. As everyone is entitled to their opinion, *MY* belief is that those pals should pull the cotton out of their ears, open their minds, and listen again. They view the lack of compositions from Miles and the perception that “he doesn’t play enough” on ‘Sorcerer’ as a reason to criticize. Opinions vary—I see this as one of the most significant examples of Miles’ drive towards “letting go” and making this a team effort. After all, hiring a band half his age as a catalyst towards pushing himself to be better was one of his core strategies, and there’s a lesson in that for us all. Besides, how do you argue with the nocturnal, brooding “Prince of Darkness,” which worms its way into your soul like a spirit that’s equally sinister and benevolent? How does one not sit in awe of the mighty “Masqualero,” a sprawling composition of enigmatic, interlocking complexity that remained a part of Miles’ live book for years? Plus, I just love the note in “Masqualero” at around 4:21 that Wayne Shorter coaxes into existence—you can hear him putting the breath of life into it with such thought and deliberation, and it’s just, exactly, perfect. It’s one of my favorite moments in jazz. In textbook Second Great Quintet fashion, the group excels at defying rhythmic conventions, but the pulse throughout is healthy if you’re willing to invest the time in finding it. Pulse leads to the heartbeat, and that’s ultimately where this and all of Miles’ music is rooted—in the heart. The cerebral “music as contact sport” fun of the Second Great Quintet is one reason I love listening to it so much, but equally important is how often this music gives me the feels. Mad respect and appreciation to birthday boy @milesdavis today

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio ‘Smokin at the Half Note’

I was saddened to hear that drummer Jimmy Cobb has flown from the world on Sunday at age 91. Many are rightly posting about his legendary contributions to ‘Kind of Blue,’ and he was the last surviving member of the group that brought that game-changing record to life. Mad respect! That rhythm section—Cobb on drums, bassist Paul Chambers, and pianist Wynton Kelly—made contributions to plenty of other top-shelf jazz records, like Art Pepper’s ‘Gettin Together,’ and this bad boy with Wes Montgomery, ‘Smokin at the Half Note.’ There’s incredible chemistry here between Montgomery and this rhythm section, and you can hear his confidence in their ability to change their state of matter effortlessly: solid groove, liquid solos, and high speed interplay that floats like hydrogen. RIP Jimmy Cobb, and thanks for all the music. You’ve left an amazing legacy for so many to enjoy

Freddie Hubbard ‘Hub-Tones’

Dateline: 10 Oct 1962. 24-year-old Freddie Hubbard had already put a jaw-dropping number of points on the board. He’d joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the wake of Lee Morgan’s departure, working the frontline on the bandstand alongside Wayne Shorter. Hubbard had already recorded with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Oliver Nelson, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, and Duke Pearson. He’d led over a half dozen sessions himself, absorbing influences from his peers and mentors into both his writing and his playing. So he was well-primed to knock it out of the park at this session, and he did so with style. Leading a quintet that featured Herbie Hancock-piano, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Reggie Workman-bass, and Clifford Jarvis-drums, Hubbard navigates the hard-bop highway with finesse on the uptempo numbers and sensitivity on the ballads. ‘Hub-Tones’ contains a couple of Hubbard’s most excellent originals, including the title track, as well as the beautiful “Lament for Booker” (written for his close friend Booker Little). It’s hard to go wrong with any of Hubbard’s run of albums on Blue Note—they’re all high quality, but I’m partial to this one for three reasons:
1. ”Lament for Booker”—this tune just kills me.
2. I love the way this album sounds—the Notorious RVG was having a great day in the studio, and the sonic assassins at Music Matters must have sprinkled some extra sonic fairy dust on this one to make it leap from the speakers so strikingly.
3. The striking artwork never ceases to amaze. ‘Hub-Tones’ has one of my favorite—and most iconic—Reid Miles Blue Note LP jackets ever.
There’s a lot to love about this record—think I’ll spin it again

Sam Rivers ‘Contours’

Post-bop bliss! The beautifully demented solo Herbie Hancock plays in “Dance of the Tripedal” alone makes this record worth owning. It’s fearless, captivating, moving, and each bar feels like a new tale of the unexpected. There are many thrilling moments just like it throughout Sam Rivers ‘Contours’, recorded in May 1965. Rivers (sax/flute) composed all four long tracks and led a stellar quintet. Joining Rivers and Hancock are Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). With song titles like “Mellifluous Cacophony,” it would be understandable that less adventurous ears might whistle past the graveyard on ’Contours.’ But you’d be missing out on one of the great mid-60s sessions…one that was increasingly difficult to come by on LP until reissued as part of the series last year. Now, to be honest, it’s still a challenging listen, and there there are a few moments with sharp edges. But those moments don’t show up often, and much of this music is truly MESMERIZING. It’s also a record with a very high replayability factor—the interplay can be so subtle and understated (or on the other end of the spectrum, so fast and furious) that it doesn’t register on the first spin. Or tenth. I dig this one more with each spin. Highest recommendation bop