Blue Note

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

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!

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

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

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

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