July 2019

Sam Rivers-Contours

Sam Rivers ‘Contours’ (Tone Poet edition 2019)

Mesmerizing. Fearless. Challenging. Indispensable. ‘Contours’ is a gripping record that will compel you to play it again and again. There’s one track called “Mellifluous Cacophony”—an apt description for this extremely progressive hard bop session that occasionally flirts with the avant-garde. You’ll hear beauty, anger, sadness, longing, confusion, and elation…the range of the music is staggering. It does have occasional sharp elbows so those who prefer a more distinctly melodic tonal center may have moments of panic but hold on tight—it’s worth it. Definitely music more for the head than the dancefloor. Intense, fascinating, dynamic, and endlessly replayable—the hallmark of a great, classic record. Mad respect to Sam Rivers (sax/flute), Herbie Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums) who gathered on 21 May 1965 to create this rare unicorn. This is a brand new reissue, the latest in @bluenoterecords “Tone Poet” series overseen by Joe Harley. Sonically, this is some of the best work he’s done—spin this one for your friends/family who don’t understand the lure of vinyl. Props to all involved here…original pressings and reissues are all long out of print, and prices have gone sky-high. Now for $30 or so, you can own one of the all-time great under-recognized jazz records that sounds better than ever. Highest recommendation @jazzsaraswati @herbiehancockofficial

Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons ‘Firebirds.

Roaring with the fury of a contrapuntal tornado through the metaphorical trailer park of your mind, ‘Firebirds’ will leave you in a heap of happy, smoldering rubble. This album blew me away. I’d already been pretty enamoured of Prince Lasha & Sonny Simmons debut LP ‘The Cry’ but fast forward a couple of years and add secret weapon Bobby Hutcherson and they’ve lept from terrific to dazzling. Fair warning: this is not a kick-back, easy listen. There’s often so much going on simultaneously it can take a few spins to sort it all out but trust me, it’s worth your effort. The free-bop/modal foundation takes a myriad of twists and turns, swooping and diving through avant-tinged, hard bop tunnels. It’s like riding a jazz themed roller coaster in total darkness—you just don’t know when the next sudden drop will occur, how deep it’ll go or where you’ll wind up. It’s a helluva thrill ride. As far as acquisition, this seems to be a “regional rarity”, findable in some places, absent in others. The CD seems pretty common, the vinyl less so, and digital platforms totally absent save for YouTube but you LP collectors should keep your eyes open…this one is spongeworthy (Seinfeld fans will get the reference). Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute/alto clarinet) Sonny Simmons (alto sax, English horn) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Buster Williams (bass) Charles Moffett (drums). Recorded 27-29 Sept 1967 and released 1968 as Contemporary S7617, stereo. First pressings have a green label, subsequent pressings have yellow or orange labels🎷

Dexter Gordon ‘Clubhouse’

Take the rhythm section from ‘The Sidewinder’: Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums); add peak-period trumpet fireworks from Freddie Hubbard; put them under the guidance of Long Tall Dexter Gordon and what do you do with the resulting music? Stick it in the vault for 15 years! 🤦🏻‍♂️ I suppose given Dexter’s run of @bluenoterecords greatness during that era there may have been some concern about flooding the market. And as I said in a previous post about these vaulted Blue Note sessions, this album—now that it’s widely available—may never get it’s fair day in court given that Dex’s other classic BN albums have had decades of head start in terms of discussion & admiration, so ‘Clubhouse’ may always be considered an also-ran. Hogwash I say—this is not AT ALL a second-tier album. The quintet’s reading of Frank Sinatra’s “I’m A Fool To Want You” is achingly beautiful, and to my ears the highlight of the session. Bassist Ben Tucker contributes a tune called “Devilette” which is a minor modal masterpiece with both Dex and Hubbard shining brightly. While ‘Clubhouse’ did finally see the light of day in 1979, it’s finally getting the royal treatment it always deserved. Available this week as part of Blue Note’s ‘Tone Poet’ series overseen by Joe Harley and Kevin Gray, it’s another job excellently done with dead quiet vinyl, outstanding sonics and under-known/under-appreciated music made more widely available. Let’s call it audiophile-grade vinyl/packaging at a non-audiophile price. Terrific attention to detail: music, packaging, and sound are all top shelf. Fantastic

Don Rendell/Ian Carr-Shades of Blue

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Shades of Blue’

A British take on the modal grooves of the classic Miles/Trane quintet. Get to your streaming service of choice and play the elegant cut “Blue Mosque” and the introspective title track “Shades of Blue” which should give you a good feel for going deeper. This session from Oct 1964 was the first of the “Landsdowne Recordings” from the Rendell/Carr Quintet who were amongst the best-known and highly regarded British jazz combos of the sixties—the first to play all original material which in the world of jazz at the time was a BIG DEAL. Like other original jazz combos in the mid 60s, the RCQ couldn’t have had worse timing as the Fab Four, Rolling Stones and The Who were driving jazz to the outskirts of popular music culture. As a result, although this was initially an EMI/Columbia affair this record was pressed in TINY quantities (~500), becoming perhaps the rarest/most expensive British jazz album EVER: last sold on eBay for a wallet-busting 2000 pounds sterling. So this reissue is MOST welcome…way more people have heard OF it than HEARD it. Kudos to @jazzmanrecords for what was apparently nearly 20 YEARS worth of work to track down the masters and negotiate the licensing for five Landsdowne RCQ titles, of which chronologically this is the first. I love how “Big City Strut” closes the LP—tight, uptempo, hard bop swing that you’d expect to come in for a predictable landing but noooo…just as the song winds down there’s a slight left turn into disparate melody lines which intertwine with faint dischord as the improv fades to the deadwax. That feels somewhat prophetic—as great as this session is, they seem to know they have more to say. A LOT more over the course of the next several records. Side note: trumpeter Ian Carr would later go on to form the influential jazz/rock outfit Nucleus, and write a widely acclaimed biography of @milesdavis Band: Dave Green, bass; Trevor Tomkins, drums; Colin Purbrook, piano; Don Rendell, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; recorded London, October 1 – 2, 1964

Alice Clark

Strength. Despair. Longing. Determination. Heartache. Redemption. You’ll hear all this and more in this OUTSTANDING soul/jazz blend. Watch out though—Alice Clark’s voice delivers tales of world-weariness and heartbreak with such authenticity you may find yourself calling your fifth grade crush and spilling your guts before the echo of the song leaves the room. This Mainstream Records cult classic has had an underground following for awhile, kicked up a notch in the early 90s as acid jazz DJs embraced the track “Don’t You Care” which became a dancefloor favorite. The original LP is mega-rare and its credits didn’t reveal much, so this Record Store Day release courtesy of the revived label (tip o’ the hat to comedian/filmmaker Judd Apatow whose grandfather Bob Shad was the original label head and producer of this session) is most welcome. What we now know is that a bunch of Aretha Franklin’s backing band (including Cornell Dupree & Ear Dunbar-guitar, Ernie Hayes & Paul Griffin-organ/Rhodes/piano, Bernard Purdie-drums, Gordon Edwards-bass, Joe Newman & Sonny Cohn-trumpet and additional unknown/uncredited horn players) gathered for a two-day session under the supervision of Shad and conductor Ernie Wilkins as Clark worked her magic, nailing this one LP and a handful of other tracks before disappearing from the music scene entirely. It’s difficult not to love this album—one look at the cover alone and you can tell that Clark speaks the truth. Her voice is sheer emotive power—I love the fact that even though she falters once or twice it’s in the service of the heartfelt message, not the perfection of the take. It only adds to the raw emotion that’s written all over her face on the cover photo. Furthermore, these are real jazz cats backing her up…you won’t find any half-assed arrangements or cheesy cliches that turn this into a syrupy, sappy, adult-contemporary mess. This is a jazz-infused, soul-powered, love-gone-bad album for the ages, and I can’t get enough of it. Highest recommendation

Woody Shaw ‘Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard’

Dracarys!🔥Killer live set marked by energy, passion, precision and effortless swing in a charged club atmosphere. There’s a *LOT* going on here. Eschewing the commercial elements that dragged both jazz and fusion down in the 70s, Shaw’s band is fully engaged—no missed opportunities, wasted notes, grandstanding, going through the motions, or phoning it in. The quintet takes things from telepathic simmer to modal boil until the intensity gets so fierce it feels like things are about to go off the rails. This is one of *THE* live jazz records to own. The recording quality is jaw-droppingly marvelous—each instrument sits in the mix exactly where you’d picture it—crisp, clear and perfectly balanced. It has plenty of live ambience but enough polish to please even the most discerning audiophile. It’s also widely available across a variety of formats, including the highly recommended Complete Columbia Albums collection which adds an entire second disc of performances from the same August 5/6 1978 Village Vanguard shows that gave us this original LP, all in that same superb sound quality. I’m fond of this Japanese reissue from 1978 CBS/Sony 25AP 1175 which is a superb pressing. The band: Woody Shaw-cornet, Carter Jefferson-tenor/soprano sax, Onaje Allan Gumbs-piano, Clint Houston-bass, & Victor Lewis-Drums. I’m on the hunt for a Japanese pressing of Woody Shaw’s masterpiece ‘Rosewood’ (my favorite jazz record EVER) CBS/Sony 25AP 977…if anyone has a copy for sale/trade, please DM @woodyshawlegacy

Harold Land ‘A New Shade of Blue’

The musical partnership of Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) & Harold Land (tenor sax) had become a true brotherhood over the course of several releases on Blue Note in the 60s. All of those records are worth hearing, and most worth owning. But there’ are five additional chapters of their story told outside of @bluenoterecords, one on Cadet (the outstanding ’The Peace-Maker’), one on Jazz Music Yesterday (1990’s ‘Blow Up’ which I’ve never heard), one on Muse (1981’s ‘Xocia’s Dance’ which looks terrific but another one I’ve not heard) and two for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label, of which this one ‘A New Shade of Blue’ is the first, recorded & released in 1971. Take the already incredible dynamic duo—the Hutcherson/Land frontline—add the rhythm section from Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet (Buster Williams-bass and Billy Hart-drums) and inject some additional groove courtesy of Bill Henderson (piano/electric piano) and Mtume (congas) and you’ve got a killer line-up. Despite several online “meh” ratings (all of which I disagree with), there’s a lot to like (if not love) here. Blues, modal, hard bop, advanced soul jazz, and spiritual jazz flourishes abound, and this 2017 reissue courtesy of @wewantsounds sounds TERRIFIC. While I don’t have an original to compare, it’s a lovely gatefold with new session photos unearthed for this reissue, as well as new liner notes. The standout track is “Mtume”, previously delivered with a bit more urgency by Hutcherson/Land on Hutcherson’s ‘Head On’ LP, though the more deliberate approach here actually works beautifully. It’s a long, deep, modal journey that’s a terrific showcase into what makes the Hutcherson/Land partnership work so well. Digital/CD versions have a bonus track called “Dark Mood

Booker Ervin ‘The In Betwen’

There’s bop. There’s hard bop. Then there’s Booker Ervin’s ‘The In Between’ which is hard-as-nails-and-twice-as-tough-bop. There’s a near-recklessness powering this quintet’s approach that’s electrifying. Side one in particular is filled with the kind of edge-of-your-seat playing that only a group of well-rehearsed virtuosos can pull off without the whole affair collapsing on itself. This quintet relishes in shaking the pillars of hard bop until they become structurally unsound to see who chickens out and bails first. Certainly not bandleader/tenorist/composer Booker Ervin, whose Texas-toned swagger is big, bold and unwavering. Nor trumpeter Richard Williams, probably the best known member of the group after Ervin. The rest of the band isn’t exactly a who’s who—Bobby Few (piano) Cevera Jeffries (bass) Lenny McBrowne (drums)—but they take these six Ervin originals to the edge and occasionally a bit beyond. It’s a truly bold, brave acoustic jazz record given its era. Fearless in fact. I’m somehow reminded of a scene in ‘The Hunger Games’ where heroine Katniss Everdeen is showing her archery skills to the disinterested powers-that-be, and in a moment of defiance and frustration she lets loose a perfectly aimed arrow through their midst. Well, that’s this album: a sharp, urgent flight of hard bop aimed at the executive elites who were fixated on commercial potential while artistry was taking a back seat, as the rock explosion of the mid/late 60s began to push jazz downwards on the priority list. Well this one’s a burner that makes no compromises, has no sappy covers, syrupy strings or weak funk. It’s in full-on, kickass mode throughout, and engineer Rudy Van Gelder—the Notorious RVG—really harnesses the full might of the players so that the sound punches you square in the face. Fear not—you’ll shake it off and say “thank you sir, may I have another?” DON’T SLEEP ON THIS ONE

Nathan Davis ‘The Hip Walk’

You need this record in your life: it’s got memorable tunes, fantastic interplay, expert musicians, a wide variety of styles and stellar sound. It’s a record I return to frequently, and each time I do I find another facet to explore further and enjoy more deeply. ’The Hip Walk’ was recorded 1 Sept 1965 at a session led by Dr. Nathan Davis (tenor/soprano sax, flute) joined on the frontline by Carmell Jones (trumpet), and the DEVASTATING rhythm section of Francis Boland (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). This is one of three records recorded that year in Europe, all of which are scarce on vinyl. This is a superbly done Speakers Corners reissue which is an exact replica of the original SABA pressing. It’s available in the digital realm, as is its “sister” album ‘Happy Girl’ (an excellent quintet date featuring a young Woody Shaw, and Larry Young on piano). The third LP in the trilogy, ‘Peace Treaty’ (also featuring Shaw) is digitally MIA. Dr. Davis is one of the great, unsung heroes of jazz. He was a brilliant player, clever composer/arranger and a superb bandleader with a keen eye for up-and-coming talent. He had offers to join the Jazz Messengers and sign to Blue Note, but he chose a different calling—education. He left Europe in the late 60s, pioneering jazz academia back in the US at the University of Pittsburgh. There, in addition to establishing multiple educational frameworks for jazz, he kickstarted a variety of lasting works including the Pitt Jazz Ensemble, the William Robinson Recording Studio and the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. He received a doctorate in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974. By choosing the road less traveled, his contributions to jazz academia will resonate for decades! Sadly, as Dr. Davis recorded sporadically for smaller labels, so his catalog is not widely available. I hope given willingness, resources, time and emotional bandwidth his estate is able to address recorded legacy as he made a lot of amazing music deserving of more ears

Paul Jeffries ‘Watershed’

Great quartet session by an under-recognized hero in jazz. Kudos to tenor saxophonist Paul Jeffrey, whose impressive resume includes recordings and tours with @theloniousmonk @charlesminguslegacy @bbkingofficial and Sam Rivers. Much of his life however was dedicated to music education, serving as director of jazz studies @dukeuniversity since 1983. ‘Watershed’ recorded in 1971 and released in 1973 features Richard Davis (bass), Thelonious Monk Jr (drums) and secret weapon Jack Wilkins (guitar). Wilkins is nearly a co-leader, with explosive single lines and wildly creative chordal trickery throughout. Not to be outdone on his own record, Jeffrey RIPS on tenor sax through largely uptempo material, but his technique is well-rounded as he delivers a ballad with restraint and sensitivity. He and Wilkins have terrific repartee (this session led to Wilkins himself getting signed to do a solo album for which was recently reissued), and alternately pushed/supported by the nimble rhythm section they deliver a gem of a record. Widely available across the digital landscape and common enough in the used LP bins, this is worthy of picking up and perhaps (hopefully) as @juddapatow continues the revival of the Mainstream label it might see the light of day on vinyl again