August 2019

Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.

Full-contact jazz that challenges every big band cliché. Way beyond one giant swing-a-long, you’ve got a core quartet of Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Stanley Cowell (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums) going toe-to-toe with a thirteen-piece brass section. The core four handle the majority of the solos while the big band summon a tsunami of sound, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging the quartet in a battle of groove. Props to bassist Cecil McBee, who to my ears is the hero of the session, laying down sinewy, elastic bass lines that are a masterclass in soulful inspiration. This record sounds modern, fresh and HUGE. Music Inc. was recently reissued by @purepleasurerecords. The original was the debut release on Strata East, Tolliver/Cowell’s artist-oriented label of the 1970s. Brilliant stuff. The big band: Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Brown, Wilbur Brown (saxes); Richard Williams, Virgil Jones, Larry Greenwich, Danny Moore (trumpets); Garnett Brown, Curtis Fuller, John Gordon, Dick Griffin (trombones); Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax

Kenny Dorham/Jackie McLean ‘Inta Somethin’

Great set of advanced hard bop recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco 13 Nov 1961. The set is mostly standards, plus a blues-based original and (most notably) the first appearance of Dorham’s “Us” (aka “Una Mas”) which he’d truly nail in April ’63 with Mighty Joe Henderson in the sax chair. But back to Nov ’61, the Dorham/McLean frontline work marvelously together. McLean—who was definitely wearing a bit of Coltrane on his sleeve that night—was slowly inching towards the more progressive sounds he’d find in 1963, and Dorham was also enjoying the edges of hard bop but there aren’t yet many sharp angles in their playing. Instead, they channel their more adventurous impulses into intensity, with “Lover Man” and “It Could Happen To You” being exceptionally well-played. All-star points to pianist Walter Bishop Jr. who sounds like he’s been playing with these guys for years. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Art Taylor bring plenty of finesse and swing—if you like your hard bop served up sizzling, you’ll be happy the tape was rolling that night. This is Japanese reissue from 1978 via King Records GXF-3119 of Pacific Jazz PJ-41, stereo

Duke Pearson ‘The Right Touch’

One of pianist Duke Pearson’s best sessions that leverages his full range of talents—great songwriting, excellent playing, clever arrangements and leading a top shelf octet: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto sax), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax/flute), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Garnett Brown (trombone), Gene Taylor (bass) & Grady Tate (drums). There is a LOT of star power on the frontline and Pearson develops its potential—you get the kickass solos you’d expect from names like Hubbard or Turrentine but the arrangements keep things tight and focused. No meandering, no grandstanding. This original pressing (BST 84267, VAN GELDER in the dead wax) was clearly well-loved by its previous owner. Worn but still sounds pretty good. Happy birthday Duke Pearson

Don Rendell Ian Carr Change Is

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet ‘Change Is’

Toto, we’re not in Landsdowne anymore. Well, OK we are, but this record shows that we’ve come quite a distance from where we started with ‘Shades of Blue’. ‘Change Is…’ would be the fifth and final album from the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. At this point, they’d developed a bit of seven-year itch (after only five years!) and had decided to “see other people”…we all know how that usually ends. Rendell would soon form his own outfit and Carr would spin up his groundbreaking proto-fusion combo Nucleus. Yet they clearly had enough fuel in the tank for another go as the RCQ, augmented by a few guests: Mike Pyne (piano), Jeff Clyne (bass), Stan Robinson (sax) and Guy Warren (percussion); joining the core quintet of Carr (trumpet/flugelhorn), Rendell (tenor/soprano sax, flute), Michael Garrick (piano), Dave Green (bass) & Trevor Tompkins (drums). The music here builds upon their British take on modal/hard bop developed over the past four records, retaining an audible measure of swing but adding even more colors to the sonic palette (world music anyone?) while taking more liberties with rhythm and structure. One only has to hear the sinewy, contrapuntal bass dance between Dave Green and Jeff Clyne (another example of a “are those cobras fighting or fucking?” moments) to know that if this was their swan song, they were going out on a high. And hey…after five great-to-brilliant records and a LOT of guts in being the first British jazz act to cut all-original material in an increasingly jazz-unfriendly landscape, they went out on top. Well played gents. So high marks for playing, compositions AND this Jazzman reissue, now widely available after some initial stock shortages earlier this year. It’s a near-exact replica of an original, and at around $25US for an excellent transfer from the masters, it’s a great buy vs the $800 the last one in mint condition sold for on eBay. Also available digitally. Highly recommended, though those new to the Rendell/Carr Quintet or British jazz in general are advised to start with ‘Shades of Blue’ first, then ‘Dusk Fire @jazzmanrecords

Clark Terry

Continued excellence from SAM records! Clark Terry (trumpet) leads several of his fellow Duke Ellington Orchestra colleagues through three originals (“Serenade to a Bus Seat” is especially terrific) and a few standards. This session was recorded in Paris circa October 1959 and released in 1960 as Decca 153.924. Paul Gonsalves (tenor sax) is a well-matched sparring partner for Terry, and they’ve got a fantastic rhythm section that includes Raymond Fol (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), and G. T. Hogan (drums). The opening, ten-plus minute track is a laid back masterclass in building narrative—it’s clear that everybody arrived with their “A” game—and whether romping through Monk’s “Pannonica Ou Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 No 2” or Ellington’s “Satin Doll”, this quintet is eager to showcase their skills beyond their work with the Ellington Orchestra. So the music is great, but that’s only half of it… @samrecordsfr has a well-earned reputation for EXTREMELY high quality vinyl reissues and this one is no exception. Remastered from the original tapes on 180gram vinyl with a glossy, flipback album jacket, this is a near-perfect reproduction of the original, and includes a double insert with a great shot by original photographer JP Leloir. They also inspect each record by hand to check for defects—this one as well as any other Sam Records reissue I’ve gotten has been perfect…centered, flat and quiet. Sonics are top shelf. Highly recommended but act quickly as this edition is limited to 2000 copies worldwide, and previous Sam Records editions have sold out and secondary market prices have gone WAY up

Jackie McLean One Step Beyond

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Gripping. Endlessly fascinating. Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ is the first in a loose “trio” of albums that includes McLean’s ‘Destination…Out!’ and trombonist Grachan Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ as they all share quite a bit of musical DNA and personnel. I hesitate to call them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a “whole” listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had clearly heard the war cries of Ornette Coleman and @johncoltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s desire to put his own stamp on their approach by keeping hard bop in the mix and forming a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone and alto) who create that mysterious atmosphere that does feel “beyond”. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, somewhat dark approach and an occasional unsettling undercurrent (“Ghost Town” is well-titled) that veer into somewhat disonnant territory—the band isn’t exactly out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit—his alto still retains its acerbic bite and the while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it’s swing with sharp elbows. Bobby Hutcherson wields two instruments of power: vibraphone and space. The effortlessness with which he wields both is often mind-blowing. While bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged, underscored by, and inspired by 17 year old drummer Tony Williams. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. This is one helluva band, and they made one helluva record. For awhile, I was obsessed with ‘Destination…Out!’ and thought it was the best of the three. Then I got sucked into the vortex of Moncur’s ‘Evolution’ and that LP rose to the top of the heap. Guess which record is in heavy rotation now?

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. Every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more—I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR

Eric Dolphy Quintet At The Five Spot

The roar of this quintet may not be for everyone, though I do recommend that everyone hear it. I was initially intimidated by ‘At the Five Spot’, concerned it would be a challenging listen. My concerns quickly evaporated. Yes, there are moments that go out to lunch as these are all players who are comfortable (and some forged a reputation upon) playing “outside”. Yet while this live session—the final and sole night to be recorded of their two week residency at the Five Spot—is often advanced, it’s quite accessible. That said, the heart wants what the heart wants, and the scope and velocity at which ideas spring from these men occasionally push past traditional notions of harmony, time and structure. Never for long, and not in a way that’s abrasive. More like watching five magicians showing sleight-of-hand card tricks when you thought you’d seen them all—most are impressive, many of them delightful, and some downright jaw-dropping. So I like this record more with each play—always a good sign. Booker Little (trumpet) would be dead at age 23 three months after this was recorded—a tragic end to an extraordinary player. Drummer Ed Blackwell is crisp, sure-footed (handed?) and nimble—never overplaying, never underplaying. Pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Richard Davis are heroes of the night. On first listen they don’t seem to be front and center, but pay attention…they’re actually the heart and soul of everything. It’s with these incredible musicians that Dolphy’s inner Khaleesi utters “Dracarys!”, and whether he’s on alto sax or bass clarinet, the fiery torrents of creativity that emerge are tales of the unexpected—at times curious, at others unsettling, occasionally aggressive, and sometimes otherworldly. When he gets on a roll and starts coloring outside the lines, it feels like a journey skywards and inwards at the same time. Not for the timid, but worth it for those with an advanced sense of adventure

Kenny Drew Undercurrent

Kenny Drew ‘Undercurrent’

One of the most underrated, underdiscussed and underappreciated record in the @bluenoterecords catalog. Love to hear arguments for/against this notion so fire away in the comments. Breaking this down a bit further:
1. This is easily pianist Kenny Drew’s best album as a leader, though he’s better known as a sideman (“Blue Train” for example). He’s nimble and fleet-fingered, capable of dropping jaws during a solo but he’s also got mad swing and a gorgeous approach to balladry: “Ballade”, the album’s sole downtempo track and the album’s closer, is also it’s highlight.
2. The one-two punch of Hank Mobley (tenor sax) and up & comer Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) who basically say “screw fire & ice, how about fire & more fire!” Here in this pure hard bop context, these two have mad rapport with both each other and Drew, making for a captivating frontline.
3. They rhythm section of Louis Hayes (drums) and Sam Jones (bass) are relentless and dynamic, driving the frontline with freight train intensity—they’re not going to let the frontline have all the fun.
I suppose the title could set expectations that won’t be met—“Undercurrent” might imply an atmosphere that’s laid back or tranquil but other than the closing ballad, this is an uptempo affair. Don’t sleep on this one! This is a Music Matters 33RPM pressing MMBST 84059, stereo

Freddie Roach Good Move

Freddie Roach ‘Good Move’

Two sessions make up this fantastic Blue Note rarity: a trio session with Freddie Roach (organ), Eddie Wright (guitar) & Clarence Johnston (drums) from 29 Nov 1963, expanded to a quintet with the addition of Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Hank Mobley (tenor sax) for a second session on 9 Dec. Freddie Roach’s ‘Good Move’ is a cooker, though you’ll rarely hear Roach launch a blitzkrieg attack on the Hammond B-3. He prefers to build a groove that prioritizes blues over bravado, and gospel over grandstanding. Not that Roach doesn’t toss in the occasional flourish to remind you that he’s got the chops, he just doles them out on an as-needed basis. He’s also masterful at leveraging vibrato to underscore a mood. The opening track—an eerie, almost unsettling take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—is a great example. While there’s a bit of a dark undercurrent, and a slower, more deliberate tempo than versions I’ve been spinning lately (lookin’ at you Grant Green/Sonny Clark), it still swings pretty hard. As I listen to this trio play it, I keep expecting them to bust into The Animals take on “House of the Rising Sun” at any moment…I’m sure a musicologist among you has an answer for that, particularly in that The Animals didn’t release that until 1964! Moving on…this isn’t all a downtempo affair. The original “Wine, Wine, Wine” is a cooker, with Mobley having himself quite a blast during his time in the spotlight. “When Malindy Sings” is a terrific mid-tempo groover with a really well-executed solo by Blue Mitchell…great vibe. This copy is a 1963 original stereo pressing (BST 84158) with RVG and Plastylite “ear” in the dead wax