January 2020

Grant Green ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’

Recorded 21 Dec 1962, ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’ was the last of the “theme” records Green would explore that year. Having previously gone west and then south of the border in previous sessions, Green recruited pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace rhythm duo of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins to take us all to church. The material is a collection of familiar spirituals like “Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, transmogrified into modern, soulful hard bop. The approach here ranges from reflective to celebratory, with the blues running deeply throughout. The interplay between Green and Hancock is marvelous, and while the tempos never really swing hard, the intensity is palpable. This is 1979 Japanese King pressing GXK 8117, stereo, a reissue of BST 84132. Preach

Stan Tracey Quartet ‘Under Milk Wood: Jazz Suite’

Imagine Thelonious Monk’s 60s quartet attempting a mellow, modal, ‘Kind of Blue’-esque album, occasionally infused with a quirky, British sense of humor. Now imagine something even better than that. Go right to the standout track “Starless and Bible Black,” which has been called one of the greatest British jazz tracks ever (for good reason). This is a truly unforgettable performance, seductive and evocative. It sets quite a a mood—the night is shrouded in mystery, and one can choose to embrace the darkness with all its uncertainties, or close the shutters to its risks and remain in the safe, warm light of home. Compositional credit goes to pianist and leader Stan Tracey, but the hero of this particular track is tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, whose solo could go toe-to-toe with any of the great tenorists from the US jazz scene in that stellar year of 1965. Spectacular. The rest of the album is of uniformly high quality, though it’s tough to compete with “Starless and Bible Black,” which is just one of those rare jazz tracks that transcend the top shelf. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention stellar bass performances by Jeff Clyne and excellent drumming by Jack Dougan. Overall, there’s a relaxed vibe to many of the tracks here, but don’t confuse that with laziness. This quartet is in it to win it, even if they choose not to drive in the fast lane often. There are several different vinyl pressings, ranging from “semi-affordable, and findable if you’re willing to put in the effort” to “if I find a M- copy, I’ll have to re-mortgage the house and sell the children for scientific experiments” *BUT* happy news! It is readily available digitally. You can listen RIGHT NOW! This copy is a 1969 pressing of the 1965 Landsdowne session Columbia/EMI SCX 3589, stereo. PS—This “Starless and Bible Black” has nothing to do with King Crimson AT ALL…sorry to disappoint you, my fellow prog rockers

McCoy Tyner ‘The Real McCoy’

Stylings of the classic quartet and Second Great Quintet blend beautifully, creating a post-bop tour de force that’s both celebratory and reflective. There’s a lot to enjoy here. “Passion Dance” opens the record and grooves with unadulterated joy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee, and your day is off to a GREAT start! “Contemplation” and “Search For Peace” are introspective ballads, thoughtful and deep but not somber. “Four By Five” is a labyrinth of intertwining lines and shifting time signatures, an engaging game of musicianship where everybody’s a winner. Then there’s “Blues On The Corner,” which certainly has blues in its DNA, but it’s more distantly related, like a second cousin, twice removed. One thing I always find striking about this session is the uniqueness of Joe Henderson’s voice. It’s easy and almost reactive to envision him as a understudy given the context, but that’s simply not the case. To my ears, Henderson is almost defiant in his insistence on being himself. His attack is sharp, and his lines are aggressive yet melodic. He prowls each measure like a restless panther, attacking with counterpoints to Tyner’s block chords with lithe athleticism. He doesn’t do so with the cold, ruthless efficiency of a predatory cat, but rather with a passion and soulfulness that brings the most out of every tune. All the while, Ron Carter brings the @milesdavis SGQ structural and time freedoms to bear, NONE of which throw Elvin Jones off, even for a moment. Years of partnership with Tyner under the mentorship of Coltrane have created a personal, sympathetic communication between them that ensures they’re working in lockstep. I don’t know that this is the best @mccoytyner album, but it’s certainly one of the two I reach for most often. Essential. Music Matters Jazz 2XLP 45RPM pressing…best I’ve ever heard it

Coltrane

Trane’s classic quartet creates a 5-star album, weaving DNA from ‘Ole!’, ‘My Favorite Things,’ and the nascent ideas that would build ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Crescent.’ @johncoltrane fans had a lot to unpack in the early 60s. The success of his Atlantic recordings like ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘My Favorite Things’ catalyzed a flood of reissues from his late 50s hard bop Prestige sessions. Simultaneously Trane was pissing-off critics with what they described as an “anti-jazz,” avant-garde-tinged residency with Eric Dolphy at the Village Vanguard. He made his first (and last) big band record. So when this record appeared in the shops who knew WHAT to expect? Greatness. Expect greatness. While it’s impossible to know an artist’s mind, perhaps the criticism of Trane’s edgier music stung. So while the same drive and energy of the Vanguard gigs are present here, the sharp edges are absent. The opening 14-minute, aptly-titled of “Out of This World” is a profound modal excursion, as strong as anything the quartet recorded for the label. You get a moment to catch your breath with the lovely balladry of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” before getting thrown back into intensity with an almost unrecognizable take on “The Inch Worm” (the first track to be recorded for this LP). The heat continues with the Trane original “Tunji,” named for percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Here, Trane & Co leverage their collective skills as a team, with a deceptively simple piano/bass chord structure upon which Trane weaves a powerful, complex solo; and suddenly, somehow by the time McCoy Tyner is building a helluva solo of his own, it’s a blues number. Also, Elvin Jones deserves a Nobel Prize for his drumming on this track—superb. The album closes with Trane’s “Miles’ Mode,” an all-out, full-contact throwdown where everyone comes to play and play HARD. Restraint? That’s the other guy’s problem. So all-in-all, this mysteriously under-valued title in John Coltrane’s impressive catalog is a MUST HEAR, and in my opinion, MUST OWN title. Spin it now. You’ll be glad you did

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

The entirety of Wayne Shorter’s legendary @bluenoterecords run is some of the greatest jazz ever recorded. ‘Speak No Evil’ has a special magic: 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 memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuances 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. On this Christmas Eve 1964 session, Wayne brought along two of his @milesdavis Second Great Quintet bandmates: Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass). By this point, they had enough stage and studio experiences with @wayne.shorter 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. The secret sauce here is bassist Ron Carter, whose creativity and unwavering sense of groove liberates both Hancock and Jones to make the most of Shorter’s compositions. Carter’s center-of-gravity was clear to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who places Carter prominently in the mix. As a result, his playing really stands out, especially on this Music Matters 33 pressing. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. Happy New Year everyone