November 2020

Jackie McLean ‘Right Now!’

Altoist Jackie McLean made loads of great records for Blue Note in the 1960s, and this is one I come back to time and again. Three of the four long tracks are uptempo, adventurous yet melodic modal-leaning hard bop, all of which feature excellent arrangements and KILLER solos by a band that includes Larry Willis (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Clifford Jarvis (drums). But the highlight is the ballad “Poor Eric” (written for Eric Dolphy who had recently passed away), which has an atmosphere that takes over the room—reflective, melancholic, and achingly beautiful. Give “Poor Eric” a listen and I’m pretty confident it will find a place on whatever playlist holds your favorite ballads. While listening ‘Right Now!’ this morning over coffee, two enthusiastic thumbs up were delivered from my wife—the equivalent to a jazz Michelin Star. Jackie McLean has a reputation for a somewhat sharp tone and freer structures (see his incredible and essential ‘Destination Out!’ album, for example), but ‘Right Now!’ eschews those elements and the more straightforward approach with this quartet works marvelously. This is a GREAT jazz record that has a lot to offer—highly recommended. And dig that Reid Miles LP jacket! This is a 2015 Music Matters 33RPM reissue MMBST-84215, stereo. Originally recorded 29 Jan 1965 and issued in 1966

Art Pepper Quartet

Wow, Omnivore really knocked it out of the park with this clear vinyl reissue of Art Pepper’s classic quartet date. Pepper is joined on this late 1956 session by Russ Freeman-piano, Ben Tucker-bass, and Gary Frommer-drums. It was originally issued in 1957 on Tampa Records, and various reissues (some of dodgy quality) have hit the shelves since. OJC did a nice CD reissue in ‘94 with several bonus tracks, but this pressing, which was cut by Kevin Gray from the original mono tapes, sounds pretty darn spectacular. If you dig Art’s west coast cool vibe before his life went completely off the rails, this one’s a keeper. The LP does include an alternate take of “Blues at Twilight” which is a neat variation. However, I keep returning to the Pepper original “Pepper Pot” and I’ve always liked Pepper’s take on “Besame Mucho”, though I am more partial to the approach taken with his late 70s/early 80s bands which incorporated a bit of a Coltrane-esque vibe. Great listen, and still easily/inexpensively found

Herbie Hancock ‘The New Standard’

‘The New Standard’ was issued in 1996 and contained Herbie’s reimagining of tunes by Nirvana, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sade, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, Peter Gabriel, & Steely Dan. While on paper this may look like a setup for background music for The Weather Channel, remember you’re dealing with here, and he assembled a band to realize this vision that included Michael Brecker-tenor/soprano sax, John Scofield-guitar, Dave Holland-bass, Jack DeJohnette-drums, and Don Alias-percussion. Have no fear that this isn’t a killer jazz record through and through—in most cases, the most recognizable hook of each song’s melody is only briefly referenced. Then it’s off to the races, as Herbie & Co lead us into an alternate universe where the jazz inclinations of Prince or Donald Fagen & Walter Becker are amplified, and jazz possibilities previously unexplored in the writing of Kurt Cobain or Don Henley are given a day in court. Great record. The first Japanese pressing of the CD has a bonus disc containing several live tracks that are also pretty fantastic. This 2019 pressing from Universal Korea was pressed at Pallas on 2 LPs and sounds terrific—recommended. Long may you run Herbie

McCoy Tyner ‘Expansions’

It’s worth immersing yourself into each of the records released during his remarkable, prolific, late-60s run. ‘Expansions’ finds Tyner leading a septet featuring Wayne Shorter-tenor sax/clarinet, Woody Shaw-trumpet, Gary Bartz-alto sax/flute, Ron Carter-cello, Herbie Lewis-bass, and Freddie Waits-drums. “Vision” opens the record—a high-speed modal exploration with Tyner’s left hand serving as timekeeper and taskmaster, while his right hand dances madly and melodically. A series of musical conversations unfold over the next twelve minutes, some veering into edgy territory. It’s an exciting listen, though it comes in second among the four Tyner originals here. Top slot goes to “Peresina,” which is one of my fave Tyner tunes ever. Here, Tyner establishes a compelling piano groove before launching into a beautiful solo accompanied by a subtle yet perfect horn arrangement—one has to believe that producer Duke Pearson had more than a little arranging input—leading into a classic Wayne Shorter solo. The handoff back to Tyner is like butter, and Tyner takes another solo that revels in melodic joy before it’s all over after what feels like a short ten minutes. The whole record is pretty great—Shaw never fails to deliver, and it’s interesting to hear Carter on cello, even though he’s a stronger bassist than a cellist. This is a 1985 French DMM (Direct Metal Mastering) pressing BST 84338 as part of the Cadre Rouge Audiophile series. I’ve not compared it to any other pressing, but it sounds fine to my ears, and it came with this nifty poster (photos 2 and 3). I don’t know if the poster was included with all DMM pressings or if it was a retailer-specific thing…can any other collector’s shed light on this?

Sonny Fortune ‘Long Before Our Mothers Cried’

‘Long Before Our Mothers Cried’ is a 1974 Strata East LP from sax master Sonny Fortune, who made plenty of great records, but none that cover quite as much ground as this one. The freedom of Strata East was empowering, and Fortune made the most of the opportunity, partnering with Strata East founder Stanley Cowell (piano) and unsung trumpet hero Charles Sullivan to form a formidable melodic core, inspired by a triple threat of percussion in Mario Muñoz, Angel Allende, and Richie Pablo Landrum. Keeping everybody in line (on occasion) are Wayne Dockery (bass) and Chip Lyle (drums). The opening title track unfolds over 15 minutes, tapping modal, spiritual and soul-jazz veins as the players find their collective and individual grooves. The four shorter tracks are a bit more straightforward than the title track, but no less deep. This isn’t an obvious record—it takes a few spins to sink in, but it’s a keeper. This was recorded right down the road at Miniot Studio in White Plains, NY. Mr. Fortune dedicated this to “the mothers that I’ve known in my life” so I’m going to do the same—Happy Mother’s Day! I‘d also like to take a moment to apologize to my own mom for my Frank Zappa phase, my King Crimson phase, all four sides of John Coltrane’s ‘Live in Seattle’, and if Instagram didn’t have a character limit, I’d go on. And on