April 2020

Jackie McLean ‘One Step Beyond’

Mysterious. Innovative. Spellbinding. 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 it them a trilogy as I’m not certain that was anyone’s artistic intent, though hearing them together in any sequence feels like a holistic listening experience. This album is extremely well-titled: McLean had heard the clarion call of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane pushing the boundaries of modal jazz, and this session reflects McLean’s approach to coloring outside the lines. Yet it’s strongly rooted in hard-bop, and it swings like mad in many places, making it an inside/outside record that’s perhaps a bit more approachable. McLean built a unique melodic frontline (vibes, trombone, and alto) who create an atmosphere that’s otherworldly…it does feel rather “beyond,” yet somehow incredibly pleasing to the ear. Trombonist Grachan Moncur’s two compositions have an eerie, foreboding tone (“Ghost Town” particularly) that veer into occasionally dissonant territory—the band isn’t totally out to lunch here, but definitely waiting for a table. McLean’s two songs go down a bit smoother, but just a bit. McLean’s alto still retains its acidic bite, and while the structures and playing are rooted in blues/hard bop, it swings with claws unsheathed. Bobby Hutcherson is the undisputed master of the 37th Chamber of Vibraphone, wielding mallets with both astonishing fluidity and lethal consequences. Bassist Eddie Khan holds the rhythmic ebb and flow accountable. Still, he and the rest of the group are perpetually challenged by—and, more importantly, inspired by—17 year old drummer Tony Williams. Williams performance throughout is simply incredible. In particular, the dialogue between Williams and Hutcherson is MESMERIZING and sounds especially clear on this Music Matters 45RPM 2XLP edition. Recorded this day, 30 April, 1963

Lee Morgan ‘Sonic Boom’

Other than the title track, this terrific hard-bop session was recorded this day, 28 April, 1967. Morgan is backed by frequent collaborators Cedar Walton-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Billy Higgins-drums; as well as new-to-this-crew David “Fathead” Newman on tenor sax. Shelved Session Syndrome vaulted this material until release in 1979 on the LT series with its trademark Windham-Hill-by-angsty-teen artwork. The CD issue adds a discs-worth of bonus tracks that were originally paired with the 1978 Twofer Classics issue of ’The Procrastinator’. (Note: those bonus tracks were also issued as a standalone LP in Japan-only as ‘Lee Morgan and His All-Star Sextet’, but what fun would collecting be without confusion and additional expense, right?) All the tunes are solid, up/mid tempo Morgan originals, save the ballad “I’ll Never Be The Same”. ’Sonic Boom’ tends to get a bit lost in Morgan’s late 60s discography, all of which is worth exploring as he never really made a dud of a record. Seems like until recently you could find original pressings of ‘Sonic Boom’ pretty easily/inexpensively but like all Blue Notes, the prices seem to be creeping up they are getting scarcer. I’d certainly say that it’s worth acquiring if you run across a copy. There is a Scorpio pressing from 2009 sourced from CD that’s cheap if you don’t mind a RINO or want a filler/shelf copy until you can locate a better one. I’d rank it maybe a notch below ’The Procrastinator’ but as I have a particular love for that record, my personal bias is in play. But absolutely get ’The Procrastinator’ first…that record RULES

Wayne Shorter ‘Night Dreamer’

Night—with all of its mysterious energy and unsettled calm—is beautifully realized by Wayne Shorter on his Blue Note debut, ’Night Dreamer.’ It all comes together—the overall vibe of the music, the compositions (all by Shorter), the artwork, and the stellar playing of the quintet which featured Lee Morgan (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) & Elvin Jones (drums). Even the album title ’Night Dreamer’ was evocative and perfect. This album was one of several remarkable beginnings for Shorter that year—he’d soon be a key part of next Big Bang, the formation of the @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. And it was a busy year for Shorter he also recorded ‘Indestructible’ and ‘Free For All’ with Art Blakey and ’Search For the New Land’ with Lee Morgan. I like taking the entire album in as I think it’s particularly well-sequenced and works best as a whole. If I had to choose highlights, ‘Virgo,’ the ballad that closes Side A is GORGEOUS. Wayne Shorter’s solo is wonderful, and the rhythm section is remarkable. Another highlight is “Armageddon.” While the title might suggest a mood of anger, chaos, or explosive energy, the vibe is more contemplative. There’s a quiet urgency and an unsettling undercurrent that keeps the atmosphere slightly charged—it’s extraordinary. This session was recorded on this day, 29 April, 1964. Shorter would only level up from here. This Music Matters 33 pressing is a joy

Doug Carn ‘Infant Eyes’

Modal, spiritual, and soul-jazz blend beautifully on a record that packs a lot of power. I’m fussy about jazz vocal records, and I don’t reach for them often, but this one is FANTASTIC. Jean Carn’s vocals convey a sense of purpose. Of clarity. Of hope. Things that seem to be in short supply in so many places at the moment. The lyrics (which all have a spiritual/inspirational vibe) were written by her husband, leader, and keyboardist Doug Carn. He then worked them into new arrangements of compelling compositions by Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), John Coltrane (“Acknowledgement”), Horace Silver (“Peace”), and Bobby Hutcherson (“Little B’s Poem”). All are knockout performances. You’ll also hear impressive instrumentals, including a killer take on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance,” and the Doug Carn original “Moon Child.” The band is top-notch: in addition to Jean’s vocals and sizzling organ/piano playing by Doug, you’ve got George Harper (tenor sax, flute), Bob Frazier (trumpet, flugelhorn), Henry “The Skipper” Franklin (bass), Al Hall, Jr. (trombone), and Michael Carvin (drums). ‘Infant Eyes’ was originally released on Gene Russell’s legendary Black Jazz Records in 1971. The label released a total of 20 albums in its short four-year existence, all of which share two properties: excellence and rarity. This one seems to have been reissued (and bootlegged) more than some of the others, though, so it’s findable, and you can also stream/download it on most digital platforms. If you’re looking to take a deep breath and lower your shoulders a couple of inches, while at the same time be inspired by a soaring, uplifting, deep, well-played jazz album, Doug Carn’s ‘Infant Eyes’ may be the record for you. It’s a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning here in the NYC area, and this record is making for fine listening. Make it a great day

Stop Over

The latest release in the BBE J Jazz Masterclass series has dropped on vinyl, CD, and across the digital spectrum, and it’s a stone-cold, hard-bop killer. As only 100 copies of ‘Stop Over’ were pressed back in 1976, the rarity/reputation of this Japanese quintet’s performance had traveled to many more ears than the music itself. So this is a very welcome reissue, done to the usual high standards of this series overseen by Tony Higgins and Mike Peden. The two LPs are cut at 45RPM for optimal sound, and my ears say “mission accomplished.” Here and there, it seems the original recording does emphasize the drums, though not in an off-putting way, and I’d say if anything the occasional ride cymbal at the fore only ramps up the intensity. The terrific liner notes by @the_jazz_dad will tell you all you ever wanted to know about how this record was made, and there’s also a new essay from pianist Toshiyuki Sekine which provides a firsthand narrative that provides additional context, presenting a complete picture of that moment in time. It makes for great reading, and the immersion of a good essay in a gatefold cover is a particular joy that…well, you either know it or you don’t. The songs include Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem,” Danny Zeitlin’s “Carole’s Garden,” Todd Dameron’s “Soultrane,” and Cedar Walton’s “Turquoise Twice”; along with the Sasaki original ‘Stop Over’ (which made its first appearance on last years J-Jazz Vol 2 collection, also from). The quintet is Noriyasu Watanabe-alto sax, Hideto Sasaki-trumpet, Toshiyuki Sekine-piano, Kei Narita-bass, and Takaski Kurosaki-drums. If you dig the sound of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers when they’re firing on all cylinders, this’ll blow you away. All of the BBE J-Jazz compilations and the Masterclass Series have been eye/ear-opening, and wildly satisfying—recommended to all, jazz newbies and experts will find lots to love here. Here’s hoping the series will continue

John Coltrane ‘Crescent’

Coltrane and his classic quartet establish a meditative vibe of energy and sanctity for 90 seconds before dropping into one of my favorite ’Trane grooves. “Crescent” swings with a combo of questing and certainty—they’d go supernova on the next official release with ‘A Love Supreme,’ but here they’re floating effortlessly above terra firma rather than actively seeking to transcend it. It’s the best nine-minute journey you’ll take all day. The interplay between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones in the beautiful ballad “Wise One” is a masterclass in the use of understatement to speak volumes. This is doing more with less, choosing the right note at the right time with a great deal of sensitivity, rather than his “construction through destruction” or “sheets of sound” style of playing, and he nails it. The short, almost interlude piece “Bessie’s Blues” is a toe-tapper, with an upbeat bounce that demonstrates that as heavy as this quartet could be, they were also extraordinarily light on their feet when they wanted to be. Side B of the record is an interesting counterpoint to the A-Side—Trane doesn’t solo at all. That said, he’s still the guiding light, setting a somber mood with the (now) standard “Lonnie’s Lament.” The tune has one of my favorite piano solos—it is perfectly realized in every way. “Lonnie’s Lament” also has a Garrison bass solo that’s inventive, tuneful, and might hold the attention of those who’d usually use the bass solo as an excuse to go get a beer. The closing track “The Drum Thing” is a showcase for Jones (and a likely precursor to John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” workout from the mighty II) who is front and center. Like Garrison’s solo in the previous track, Jones plays a series of shifting patterns, tones, and styles that’s engaging, interesting, and incredibly impressive. ‘Crescent’ was recorded this day, 27 April, back in 1964. It stands in the mighty shadow of its follow-up ‘A Love Supreme’ for a good reason—most records stand in the shadow of ‘A Love Supreme’—but that doesn’t diminish the power, grace, and creativity that emanates from every groove. Essential

Elvin Jones ‘Puttin’ It Together’

Elvin goes to work leading a piano-less trio with longtime cohort Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Joe Farrell on tenor/soprano sax, flute, and piccolo. Everyone contributes a composition, which are matched with some well-chosen originals that showcase the versatility of this trio. For three guys, they sure make a lot of great noise, and I mean that with the utmost respect. In the world of rock, I’d say the same thing about Rush—they also sound WAY bigger than three guys. The sound is helped by a particularly sweet mix. It’s easy to see why Ron, Joe, and the rest of the Music Matters crew chose this one (and ‘Genesis’) for release. The music is generally high intensity, modal and advanced hard bop. Stylistically, it rarely strays into the mid-60s Coltrane sound one might expect. Yet there’s a power here that’s unmistakable. A presence that makes the session feel…charged. This is really excellent music that I highly recommend. ‘Putin’ It Together’ was Elvin’s debut for Blue Note as a leader, and set a high bar for his tenure at the label. He hit that bar and raised it on subsequent releases, particularly ‘Genesis’. I’ve not heard all of Elvin’s releases from the late 60s/early 70s, but every one that I have heard has been excellent and I look forward to discovering the rest. Recorded on this date, 4 April, 1968

Miles Davis ‘A Tribute To Jack Johnson’

Incendiary. Recorded on this day (7 April, 1970) in Columbia Studio B, this record moves even further into rock, soul, and funk excursions that began as far back as the waning days of the Second Great Quintet. Those initial sparks grew into a flame with ‘In A Silent Way,’ fire with ‘Bitches Brew,’ and full-on conflagration with ‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson.’ Miles, in particular, is playing at the top of his game—his solos are fierce, edgy, and take NO prisoners whatsoever. As a bandleader, his stated goal was to “put together the greatest rock ’n’ roll band you ever heard.” Mission accomplished: John McLaughlin & Sonny Sharrock (guitars), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (keyboards), Steve Grossman (saxophone), Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), Dave Holland & Michael Henderson (bass), and Billy Cobham & Jack DeJohnette (drums). The two side-long tracks cover a lot of ground. Tension. Release. Tranquility. Fury. The lines between what was planned and what happened are difficult to ascertain, and ultimately I’m not sure it matters. Whether you see this is a rock record with jazz cred or a jazz record that decided to party with a rock band, it’s another example of bending the course of music to his will. And we’re all the better for it

Woody Shaw/Anthony Braxton ‘The Iron Men’

This love letter to the work of inside/outside pioneers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, and all the other “iron men” (as Shaw calls them) is a BURNER. Shaw is joined by Anthony Braxton, who pulls triple duty on alto & soprano sax, as well as clarinet. Shaw is a triple threat as well on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Arthur Blythe adds alto sax on two tracks as well. They’ve got a knockout rhythm section that’s both fluid and powerful, with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and drum duties split between Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Two sessions were recorded for Muse that comprise this record, one recorded on this day, 6 April, and another a week later on 13 April back in 1977. The material includes homages to Shaw’s earlier collaborations with Eric Dolphy, including the Dolphy original “Iron Man,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which Shaw had performed with Dolphy in the 60s. There’s a rousing, knotty romp through Andrew Hill’s “Symmetry,” which is my second-favorite track on the record, with McBee and Abrams engaging in a game of musical capture-the-flag that’s simply awe-inspiring. Top-of-the-heap, however, is Shaw’s second run at his own “Song of Songs,” originally on the LP of the same name recorded for Contemporary in 1972. The ’72 version sets a spiritual mood. This version is fiercer, tighter, and leaves no ass unkicked. There’s marvelous interplay, terrific solos, and overall it’s a team effort that’s bound to please. Throughout the record, Shaw paints with his entire palette, showcasing both dazzling technique, and a buttery, smooth, tone. As you’d expect with Anthony Braxton on board, some of the music has sharp elbows, but don’t let that intimidate you—this is wonderful music and an under-appreciated Shaw session. Originally released on Muse (MR 5160) in 1981, it’s part of Mosaic’s Complete Muse Recordings of Woody Shaw, which boasts significantly improved sound over the LP