Posts by Syd

I’m Syd Schwartz, jazz vinyl enthusiast, digital marketing exec at Sony Music and Consigliere for the band Umphrey’s McGee. Posts here are ported from my Instagram feed @jazzandcoffee. DM me there if you’re looking to get in touch.

Harold Vick ‘Steppin’ Out’

Even if steppin’ out isn’t on the agenda for most of us at the moment, this record will get your ass moving. ‘Steppin’ Out’ is a blues-driven, gospel-infused soul shakedown groove-fest that blends hard bop and soul-jazz into an invigorating brew. Tenorist Harold Vick pulled together a great band, including Grant Green (guitar), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Big John Patton (organ), and Ben Dixon (drums) for this late May 1963 session. They’d all previously played together in various incarnations on other Blue Note sessions for Lou Donaldson and Don Wilkerson, and the Patton/Dixon relationship went back as far as their R&B days with vocalist Lloyd Price. The familiarity shows through in the interplay as they trade licks, cut deep grooves, and take you to church during occasional moments when the gospel influence shines through. But this is largely a blues-based affair, with Vick’s assertive technique taking pole position and driving the quintet to deliver a message that hits you right where you live. A stone-cold killer. This pressing is a 1993 Japanese reissue BST 84138, stereo

Andrew Hill ‘Dance With Death’

Pianist Andrew Hill’s ‘Dance With Death’ is one of THE BEST sessions made for Blue Note in the late 1960s. Sadly, it sat on the shelf for quite a while as tastes and marketing teams had shifted their focus towards more commercial and soul-jazz outings, and ‘Dance With Death’ is pretty far from both. ‘Dance With Death’ is an inventive, inside/outside, post-bop affair that’s pretty much guaranteed to capture and retain your undivided attention. “Fish n Rice” is a boogaloo-on-LSD dance number for people with two left feet. “Love Nocturne” is the kind of ballad you’d definitely NOT bring home to mom. The title track is a mid-tempo noir soundtrack to an unsolvable mystery—the mystery to me being how the drummer manages to tread the air above the din, locking into a modified 4/4 while his bandmates are working with complex fractions. Hill’s compositions are adventurous, and he’s got a top-flight band to realize his vision: Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Farrell-tenor/soprano sax, Victor Sproles-bass, & Billy Higgins-drums. Joe Farrell and Charles Tolliver are a particularly well-matched brass pair, sounding positively HUGE when going into lockstep. Tolliver, in particular, solos with confidence and agility. His chops are on display, but he never crosses the line into overplaying. Hill’s run at Blue Note from 63-70 is rather fantastic, with a dozen-plus sessions/albums that are all worth hearing and most worth owning. I’d put this one, ‘Passing Ships,’ and ‘Pax’ at the top of my list of Andrew Hill requests/suggestions for the team @donwas @jazzsaraswati

Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’

There is no other record in the catalog that’s been the source of as many blown minds and blown speakers as ‘Bitches Brew.’ The only constant about Miles Davis over the years was his refusal to be a constant. While his compass had pointed in a new direction for a couple of records, ‘Bitches Brew’ was a Big Bang. It gave birth to entire genres, methods of working with tape edits, and leveraging the recording studio as an instrument itself. The unhinged electricity and unapologetic rock grooves set the jazz world on its ear. Those critics and fans who cried foul and shouted for the bell-bottomed, amplified, hippies to get off their lawns and bring back the tuxedoed guys “who knew how to swing” were frustrated at their inability to adjust their ears. Miles knew that time and life didn’t sit still, and that being liked wasn’t as important as saying what needed to be said. His uncanny knack for changing the times, and writing a new soundtrack to accompany them didn’t include a clause for traditionalism. The experiment paid off—fifty years later, ‘Bitches Brew’ continues to influence, provoke, polarize, inspire, and delight. Don’t worry if you don’t get it on your first listen. Or second. Or even your fifth. Nothing that’s this worthwhile was ever achieved suddenly. Happy 50th ‘Bitches Brew

Herbie Hancock ‘The Prisoner’

Before I knew better, I misinterpreted the cover art as a soundtrack, and the credits noting electric piano and flute gave me pause that the music was going to lean electric, funkified, proto-fusion; with Starsky & Hutch-Esque car chase vibes. Wrong, wrong, wrong. ‘The Prisoner’ is more like a larger-format transmogrification of Second Great Quintet meets Gil Evans. So to others who perhaps made a similar error in snap-judgment, or who’ve passed over this little-discussed title in the discography, I encourage you to open your ears to this great, under-recognized masterpiece. I’m pleased (and grateful) that @donwas @jazzsaraswati @ckurosman and the rest of the team at saw fit to reissue ‘The Prisoner’ as part of their series. I pre-ordered a copy the moment it was announced and given the state of things, I was surprised and delighted to see it on the doorstep today. ‘The Prisoner’ is a post-bop session from April 1969, showcasing Hancock’s playing and composing chops in the context of a formidable nonet: Joe Henderson (tenor sax/alto flute), Johnny Coles (flugelhorn), Garnett Brown (trombone), Tony Studd (bass trombone), Hubert Laws (flute), Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet), Buster Williams (bass), & Albert Heath (drums). The liner notes and song titles—along with subsequent interviews and articles—allow Mr. Hancock to establish his narrative: “The Prisoner” as a metaphor for the African-American experience, in what Hancock calls “a social statement in music”. The LP is also his dedication to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a gripping listen—cerebral, dense, and with an overall tone I’d describe as somewhat solemn, but it’s not gloomy or heavy-hearted despite the gravity of the subject matter. Hancock, Henderson, and Coles are the standout players, though this is truly a team effort. This pressing sounds HUGE with marvelous separation among the instruments, a deep low end, and the vinyl is perfectly quiet. A job well-done on a reissue that hopefully gives this overlooked record another day in court. Apologies for the crap photo…the LP jacket looks great but is rather reflective!

Elvin Jones ‘Dear John C.’

Elvin’s name may be on the masthead, but this record is all about altoist Charlie Mariano and bassist Richard Davis. The entire record is a wonderful team effort, but my attention is continually drawn to Davis and Mariano and, in particular, Mariano’s alto work, which is some of his best playing on record. Piano duties fall to either Roland Hanna or Hank Davis, both of whom play very well too. This is an under-discussed title in the Elvin Jones catalog, and worth hearing if for no other reason than to hear what Mariano is capable of on an inspired day

Hank Mobley ‘A Slice of the Top’

‘A Slice of the Top’ showcases Hank Mobley at the peak of his powers. It was the session that Mobley has said he was most proud of, and he pulled no punches in expressing his frustration that it sat unreleased—along with a half dozen of his other sessions—in Blue Note’s vaults for over a decade. With clever arrangements by the amazing Duke Pearson, the octet of Hank Mobley-tenor sax, Lee Morgan-trumpet, McCoy Tyner-Piano, James Spaulding-flute/alto sax, Kiane Zawadi-euphonium, Howard Johnson-tuba, Bob Cranshaw-bass & Billy Higgins-drums created one of Mobley’s GREATEST albums. It’s got a bigger sound due to the expanded lineup, the material is on the more adventurous side for Mobley, though he never strays from his trademark melodic excellence. Originally recorded 18 March 1966, it first saw the light of day as part of Blue Note’s LT Classics series in 1979 (cheap and plentiful in second-hand shops, with covers that look either like cheap packages of magnolia seeds, or the work of a first-day intern at Windham Hill), and then Blue Note’s Connoisseur series (this copy) in the mid-90s with a bit more sonic heft, mastered by Wally Trautgott. This session is collected along with the rest of Mobley’s 60s output (including all of his shelved sessions) as part of Mosaic’s ‘Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70’ CD box, which from a sound quality perspective beats all the vinyl issues I’ve heard from these later 60s sessions. ‘A Slice of the Top’ is an often overlooked title in Mobley’s largely stellar catalog, which is a shame as it’s a superb record that I’d categorize as “must hear” material. Fortunately, it is available across the digital spectrum, and second-hand copies of the vinyl are fairly easy to come by h/t @gs_va12 for the suggestion!

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Dialogue’

Ethereal vibes are challenged by deep bass clarinet growls, as angular piano fills offset sinewy bass lines. Rapid-fire trumpet riffs buffet intricate drum work as a mournful soprano sax line spirals skywards into the night. ‘Dialogue’ is vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson’s first release as a leader, and it’s quite a statement. ‘Dialogue’ was a bold step forward into the “new thing,” and shares quite a bit of musical DNA with several other projects Hutch had been a participant in, including Andrew Hill’s ‘Point of Departure,’ Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ and Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch.’ While not quite as edgy as the latter, enjoyment of ‘Dialogue’ requires an advanced sense of adventure and an appreciation for coloring outside the lines. Hutch pulled together compatriots from some of those aforementioned outside/inside records including Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Sam Rivers (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute) and a key musical partner who’d remain in his orbit for many future albums, Joe Chambers (drums). While Hutch is credited as the leader, all of the writing is done by either Hill (four tracks) or Chambers (two tracks), and in a sense, it’s probably Hill who deserves co-leader billing here. That said, it’s tough to call out any specific player as the brilliance here is the conversation between them, and the insanely creative use of instrumentation to invoke moods. This is a challenging, cerebral record that moves from beautiful (“Idle While”) to unsettling (“Dialogue”); and from the zany, Avant-leaning “Les Noirs Marchant” (which could be the soundtrack to the Ents marching on Orthanc) to the demented blues of “Ghetto Lights.” So…chamber hard-bop? Avant modal blues? I can’t say this record “defies categorization,” but it does cover a LOT of ground. Everyone should hear it, but it’s not *FOR* everyone. Why it’s so difficult to find on vinyl is a real head-scratcher…here’s hoping someone @bluenoterecords gets the memo on this classic and puts it back in print soon

Mike Longo ‘The Awakening’

Covid-19 has claimed jazz pianist and composer Mike Longo, who flew from this world this past Sunday. In addition to his longtime partnership with Dizzy Gillespie, Longo cut some terrific funky jazz records for Bob Shad’s Mainstream label in the early 70s. ‘The Awakening’ features jazz luminaries like Ron Carter (bass), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Mickey Roker (drums), Virgil Jones (trumpet) and lots of killer electric piano from Longo

Graham Collier ‘Songs For My Father’

Graham Collier’s ‘Songs For My Father’ is a mind-blowing, progressive jazz album of incredible depth. The simplicity of each song title belies its underlying complexity. Each tune is named only for its order on the album, with a subtitle that indicates its structure and time signature. Whether this is unimaginative or genius isn’t for me to judge. Regardless, this nomenclature provides some useful context around the chaos that occurs when the lines between improv and composition get blurry. You guessed it: this isn’t casual background music, and probably not an album for “lean back” listeners. There’s a very British sensibility that gives the record a very different quality than the American jazz of the time. I dig “Song One (Seven-Four)” and “Song Three (Nine-Eight Blues),” both teeming with surprises that lurk around every corner. A couple of the band members here would later branch off into the 70s Canterbury scene, joining forces with Gilgamesh and Soft Machine. Early echoes of that sound are in nascent stages of guitarist Phil Lee’s playing, as well as Alan Wakeman’s soprano solo on the opening track. Today’s post is in memory of my father, who was taken from this world on this day many, many years ago. Graham Collier–bass; Harry Beckett–trumpet, flugelhorn; Phil Lee–guitar; John Taylor–piano; Alan Skidmore & Tony Roberts–tenor sax; Bob Sydor–tenor/alto sax; Alan Wakeman–tenor/soprano sax; Derek Wadsworth–trombone; John Webb–drums. This one is scarce on vinyl (this is a first pressing on Fontana 6309 006, stereo) but available digitally everywhere

Eastern Rebellion

‘Eastern Rebellion’ is an extraordinary, modal/advanced hard bop session from 1975 when it wasn’t particularly fashionable to make records like this. The five long-ish tunes are expertly played by the quartet of George Coleman (tenor sax), Cedar Walton (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). This mix on this record is FANTASTIC—there’s a power in this session that the recording engineers captured perfectly, and it leaps from the speakers like the grooves in the vinyl remain charged with energy. Cedar Walton is the de facto leader of the group, kicking things off with his infectious original “Bolivia”—that bassline is quite an earworm, and Sam Jones is mixed nice n’ loud. Walton also kills it on “Mode for Joe,” which he wrote for Joe Henderson. The quartet’s take on “Naima” is TERRIFIC, and a highlight of the record. George Coleman also turns in a superb performance throughout, and the overall chemistry of the quartet results in a killer album that does not AT ALL sound like a child of the 1970s. ‘Eastern Rebellion’ was the first record to be released on the Dutch label Timeless (SJP 101), and it was also issued in the US on the Muse label (TI 306). It’s widely available across the digital spectrum too! This record doesn’t get talked about enough, and at a time when I see an influx of DMs with requests for records that are a bit off the beaten path, this seems like a good choice for a spin