July 2019

Rudolph Johnson ‘The Second Coming’

Modal/Spiritual grooves galore from this killer quartet. Issued in 1973 on the Black Jazz label, session leader/tenorist Rudolph Johnson (who plays no flute here despite cover photo) pens four originals and pianist Kirk Lightsey contributes one. Bassist Kent Brinkley is a marvel: tone, chops and overall control of his instrument are masterful. Drummer Doug Sides has a deft yet assertive touch. Pianist Kirk Lightsey is a terrific melodic sparring partner for Johnson, anchoring block chords to emphasize and weaving lead lines to tantalize in equal measure. I love the sound on this LP—really upfront with barely a hint of reverb to be found and each instrument balanced perfectly. Mr. Johnson made a couple of records for the Black Jazz label as a leader and played on several as a sideman, though he’s better known for his three decade tenure as a member of Ray Charles orchestra, and his work with Jimmy McGriff. Great stuff here

Ryo Fukui ‘Scenery’

Lots of chatter about this record. There’s a running debate in various online jazz forums between two camps with firmly entrenched opinions. One faction believes it’s derivative, rife with questionable technique, lacking depth, and notable only because it was—until recently—a mega-rarity from the Japanese jazz scene. They also note with implied scoff that “it wouldn’t have an audience at all if it weren’t for a YouTube algorithm”. Then there’s another faction that finds it brimming with style, fluidity, emotion, power and awesomeness; one of the best jazz records of the 1970s, worthy of every accolade heaped upon it, and grateful that the mysterious algorithm of YouTube has brought it from the darkness of obscurity to the light of jazz infamy. I’m in this faction!
I’m super curious about the YouTube algorithm that seems to have put this record on the radar of so many, so randomly. Investigation to follow. FWIW, I’m super impressed with self-taught pianist Ryo Fukui (piano), and I think he swings marvelously with Satoshi Denpo (bass) and Yoshinori Fukui (drums) on this once-obscure/now-acknowledged-by-some classic of the J-Jazz scene a mere six years after dedicating himself to learning the instrument. You’ll absolutely hear echoes of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (and if you like their piano trio work, you’ll **LOVE** this) but it’s not a copycat exercise—it has stylistic charms of its own–and this does not AT ALL sound like a jazz album that hit the streets in 1976. Hear it yourself and form your own opinions. This is a 2018 reissue on We Release Jazz WRJ001 on 180g vinyl and a jacket that feels nearly bulletproof…rock solid quality all around. Well done @wrwtfww

Dexter Gordon ‘Doin’ Allright’

Kickstarting a remarkable run for @bluenoterecords in 1961, ‘Doin’ Allright’ was a triumphant return to the jazz scene for Dexter Gordon, after struggling through a rough stretch of addiction, incarceration and a resulting downturn in his musical activities. This was my first Dexter album (thanks @tom.sladek) and it remains one of my favorites, especially for the two originals “Society Red” and “For Regulars Only” (which has a Freddie Hubbard trumpet solo for the ages). The three standards are also top shelf, with several shining moments in particular from pianist Horace Parlan, though it’s Dexter himself who steals the show. The vibe he creates on the ballad “You’ve Changed” gives me all the feels. This title is now back in print as part of @bluenoterecords 80th celebration, an all-analog 33 issue cut by Kevin Gray which sounds FANTASTIC. A terrific introduction to the music of @dextergordon.official or to jazz in general. And if you haven’t taken this out for a spin in awhile, today’s a great day to do so

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Montara’

A wildly enjoyable, feel-good, summertime jazz record. Bobby Hutcherson’s ‘Montara’ (originally released in 1975) manages to be energizing and relaxing at the same time—an impressive feat. This album was the “fusion” offering in the Blue Note 80th Anniversary box issued via @vinylmeplease, and a record I’d seen quite a bit in the used bins when I worked retail, but it wasn’t an album I was familiar with. I’ve had a good time getting to know it over the last few weeks. I’ll agree with the sub-genre “fusion” in that it’s an electric jazz offering, and there are Latin-jazz and jazz-rock structures cleverly woven within the framework, but this isn’t a Mahavishnu-esque chops-fest or a one-way ticket to shredsville. It’s busy where it needs to be, often due to the sheer size of the band. They say two’s company, three’s a crowd. This album is either 9 companies or 6 crowds depending on how you want to do the math. The tune “Montara” has come around a few times, with The Roots taking a remix run at it in 1996, Madlib taking another swing again in 2003, and samples show up on all sorts of hip hop albums. It’s definitely one of those grooves that gets into your head and won’t let go. Fans of the Rhodes electric piano will hail the heroic playing by Larry Nash who is a formidable presence throughout the record. A recommended sundown spin as it has a perfect evening vibe. Vinyl is a bit elusive though not impossible, but digital availability is ubiquitous. Happy Fusion Friday

Wayne Shorter ‘Schizophrenia’

Wayne Shorter’s first run at Blue Note produced gem after gem, though his smaller combos tend to receive more attention than his sextet/septet dates. So kudos to @bluenoterecords @vinylmeplease @donwas for selecting ‘Schizophrenia’ as the pick representing the “post bop” genre in their Blue Note 80 anniversary box. Certainly one of Shorter’s more adventurous Blue Note dates, as his couple of years in @milesdavis “Second Great Quintet” developed his muscles in both playing and songwriting, and here it’s clear he’d been paying attention to his boss and learned a thing or two about building and leading a band. His frontline included Curtis Fuller (trombone) and James Spaulding (flute/alto sax) while his fellow SGQ bandmates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) joined him along with Joe Chambers (drums) on 10 March 1967 for this session. Eschewing the structure and chord changes of bop, yet not jumping headlong into free playing, Shorter & Co push their hard bop roots beyond the usual boundaries, introducing abstract approaches to rhythm & tonal centers, but never heading into free jazz or antonality. To my ears, this is most apparent (and most interesting) in the ballads, which are beautiful, mesmerizing, and just different enough from a standard hard bop affair to shift your imagination into overdrive. Shorter is the standout soloist, with Fuller providing more of a tonal balance, and Spaulding a melodic athlete whose tone/style are perfectly suited to the material. Yet it’s the three members of the SGQ—Shorter, Hancock & Carter—who are the core of the session, as their months of playing together, learning their respective styles and strengths pays off marvelously. This is a big sounding Shorter record and the mastering job here really opens it up, my previous Connoisseur copy being no slouch in the sonic department (mastered by the ever-reliable Wally Trautgott). A recommended heavy rotation album, with huge rewards reaped from repeat listens. It’s not an obvious classic like ‘Speak No Evil’ or ‘Adam’s Apple’, nor as hummable as ‘Juju’, but the depth and accessible complexity of the material combined with superb sound is addicting. Five stars.

Miles Davis ‘In a Silent Way’ (Directions in Music by Miles Davis)

Released 50 years ago today, this album is ahead of its time, even now. Miles established the ground rules of framework and freedom. Producer Teo Macero leveraged technology in music-making that has since become nearly ubiquitous. The band—Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ, elec piano), John McLaughlin (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), and Tony Willams (drums)—all trusted in the creative process. The result: a dreamy, meditative voyage as @milesdavis ushered in a new era in jazz, once again re-writing the rulebook as he saw fit and trailblazing a new trajectory for the genre and for himself. This album’s impact, influence and significance in music, culture and technology continues to resonate. Anything with that much power is deserving of repeat spins, discussion and respect. Happy 50th ‘In a Silent Way’—I don’t think you’ll ever act your age

Tubby Hayes ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’

If 2018 was the year of @johncoltrane regarding “lost”, previously unreleased albums, 2019 belongs to Tubby Hayes. A key difference: the ‘Trane release was noteworthy, this Hayes record is EXTRAORDINARY. Recorded nearly 50 years ago with 3/4 of the quartet that produced his greatest small combo work ‘Mexican Green’, this session disappeared into a perfect storm of bad timing, record company politics/incompetence, and Hayes’ own life falling to pieces. In many cases, lost/unreleased works are generally so for a reason, and then when miraculously found, they’re unreasonably hyped. In fact I can hear eyes rolling already. Let me assure you, this is NOT the case here. With the notes from Hayes’ own diary as a guide, the best of the session tapes were culled down to five essential tracks, with one LP side devoted to Hayes originals, the other sporting Duke Pearson and Cy Coleman compositions, this is a BEAST of a follow-up to his greatest studio work, and in many places rivals it. Sonically, it sounds even BETTER, with @gearboxrecords overseeing an all-analog cut using vintage gear with incredible results. There’s still a vibe of ‘Trane’s ‘Giant Steps’ in the quartet’s overall approach, though as renown Hayes historian Simon Spillett’s excellent liner notes suggest, the influence of Joe Henderson is also palpable. The blend works EXCELLENTLY. While Hayes is clearly front & center (and in ‘69 he still had plenty of his legendary, formidable chops), the rest of the quartet is mighty in their own right, including newcomer Spike Wells (drums) joining longtime Hayes cohorts Mike Pyne (piano) and Ron Mathewson (bass). The complete unreleased sessions are also available as a double CD and on digital platforms, also worth hearing for the “alternate” version of the quartet which swaps out Pyne & his piano for Irish guitarist Louis Stewart. A contender for archival jazz release of the year—simply fantastic. As the title ‘Grits, Beans and Greens’ suggests, this is very American sounding jazz…Hayes has a deep respect and fascination with the US jazz scene and you can hear it

Andrew Hill ‘Black Fire’

When @bluenoterecords announced the “Tone Poet” series as part of their 80th Anniversary celebration, there were two titles I was most excited about. Sam Rivers ‘Countours’, and this album, Andrew Hill’s ‘Black Fire’. It was Hill’s debut as a leader on Blue Note and the start of an extraordinary run that would span 13 albums over the next six years. Hill’s partners for this session are bassist Richard Davis, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Roy Haynes. Collaborating with Richard Davis would be come a recurring theme for Hill, resulting in some of his most successful sessions. Roy Haynes struts with an agile confidence that gives Davis ample room to explore and find elusive grooves, while tenor sax monster Joe Henderson is…well, monstrous. Killer playing all around. The music is spellbinding—Hill has his own rule book about harmony and time, bending both to his will as needed to work within the constructs of his music, some of which is like looking at an MC Escher sketch. The geometry seems skewed until you allow yourself to see it from another perspective, then it blows your reality apart, and makes sense in a really compelling way. Hill composed every track on the record, and the quartet takes hold of each one like it’s an enormous, restless anaconda. Not a grouchy one—there’s not really much aggression here. It’s more like the music is relentlessly exploring its enclosure, testing to see if the boundaries are *REALLY* boundaries or if there’s somewhere else to go. Someplace further. The journey is the prize here. Five stars and two thumbs up to the Joe Harley and the entire Tone Poet team for a terrific job on this. Superb record and outstanding job on the reissue—best this record has EVER sounded. Well done team Tone Poet! 10 stars out of 5

Pete Yellin ‘It’s the Right Thing’

Obscurity can be a badge of honor in the world of jazz, but let’s take a moment to explore why it’s kinda weird that that Yellin isn’t better known. Abandoning basketball at the University of Denver to study saxophone at Juilliard after finding inspiration in the music of Art Pepper, Yellin found work and camaraderie with a variety of jazz luminaries, from Joe Henderson to Chick Corea. He worked extensively during the 60s & 70s in a variety of small and large combos (including Tito Puente, as well as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band) until releasing the first of two recordings as a leader on Bob Shad’s Mainstream label in 1973, ‘It’s the Right Thing’. Yellin steps out fiercely on both alto sax and flute, leading a mid-sized combo that includes Hal Galper (Electric Piano), Jack Wilkins & Roland Prince (Guitar), Mario Rivera (Flute, Tenor/Soprano/Baritone Sax), Barry Rogers (Trombone), Clint Houston (Bass), Darryl Washington & David Lee Jr. (Drums), Lawrence Killian & Angel Allende (Percussion/Congas). Yellin contributes a couple of originals, and there’s a fine rendition of “Softly As A Morning Sunrise” and an unexpectedly groovy take on Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”. Jazz snobs who turn their noses up at electricity and a willingness to take on “commercial” tunes like the aforementioned Stevie Wonder cover are missing out on a fine jazz record—there’s some tremendous playing here. Yellin SHREDS. Good stuff

Horace Silver ‘Serenade to a Soul Sister’

Silver’s flair for melody, funky style, and inspired choice of bandmates results in another classic. While ’The Jody Grind’ remains my favorite Horace Silver-led session, this one has raced up the charts quickly into second place. If the opening track doesn’t put a smile on your face, inspire you to get into the groove and boogie, you need a drink. Or therapy. Or both. Certainly one of the happier jazz records one can reach for, and overall a great listen. It features a who’s who of talent, including Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Bennie Maupin (sax), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums) and Billy Cobham (drums). Terrific soundtrack to a beautiful NYC morning